Frequently Asked Questions

Dominican Questions

Are Dominicans monks? Is a priory the same as a monastery?
Why have the Dominican friars had a recent increase in vocations? Do some of their vocations come from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish?
Are the Dominicans under the authority of the local bishop? Don’t they have their own government as well?
Who makes the decision to transfer Dominican friars to or from St. Thomas Aquinas parish? How do we know how long a given friar will stay here?
What are some ways that additional Dominican friars assigned to the priory would be able to serve in ministry?
Where do the Dominicans here currently live, and what is their house like?
What is a day in the life of a Dominican friar like?

Priory Questions

What is a priory, and how is it different from a rectory?
Why do the Dominicans want to build a priory here in Charlottesville?
How will the ongoing operating expenses of the priory be paid?
Is this a Dominican project or a St. Thomas Aquinas Parish project? Who will own the priory building and the land on which it is built?
What is the cost breakdown of the priory, and why is the total cost significantly higher than building an ordinary parish rectory?
Where are we now on the timeline for the priory project?

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What is a priory, and how is it different from a rectory?

A priory is home to a community of six or more Dominican friars. It provides not only a place for them to eat and sleep, but a habitat in which a true Dominican community life can flourish. Therefore, in addition to modest individual cells (bedrooms) for at least six friars, a priory has a chapel suitable for all the friars to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and celebrate Mass in common with ample room for guests, a refectory (dining room) where the friars can take their meals together, a shared library with resources for their study and preaching, and space where the friars can gather for regular community meetings and recreation.

A rectory is normally home to one or two diocesan priests who serve a single parish. Because diocesan priests tend to pray independently and live alone or in small numbers, a rectory usually does not have or need significant common areas like a chapel, a library, or a sizable dining area.

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Why do the Dominicans want to build a priory here in Charlottesville?

Shortly after St. Dominic gathered a small band of friars in his newly founded Order of Preachers, he sent them out to the great universities of Europe, where they would establish communities of friars who would pray and study together and hand on the fruit of their contemplation through preaching and teaching. From those early years of the Order the Dominicans have engaged the issues and scholars of their time in order to bring all truth into conversation with the saving truth revealed by God. St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron of our parish, excelled in this union of faith and reason in a university setting.

The Dominicans of our Province of St. Joseph have come to see Charlottesville as an ideal place to expand our Dominican presence and ministry. It is home to a major university with an active and growing Catholic community; a place where six or more friars could find plenty of work to do in a truly Dominican way. In fact, we believe that it is just the kind of place St. Dominic would want his friars to go.

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What are some ways that additional Dominican friars assigned to the priory would be able to serve in ministry?

The additional friars assigned to the priory would be available to supplement and enrich our ministry to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, but they would chiefly be assigned to expand our ministry to the wider area. These friars could:

  • expand our offering of Masses and confessions
  • make our ministry to the U.Va. Medical Center more proactive
  • offer more presentations and teach classes to help students, parishioners, and people in the wider area to deepen their knowledge of our faith
  • be more available to help out when area parishes and Catholic organizations ask us to help them with Masses, confessions, retreats, and parish missions

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Are Dominicans monks? Is a priory the same as a monastery?

Dominicans are not monks, but they have some things in common with monks. Monks live a contemplative life, devoting themselves to prayer, study, and manual labor. They live, pray, and work in a monastery, which tends to be in a secluded place that allows for silence and separation from the world.

Dominicans are properly called friars, and friars are a kind of hybrid between monks and diocesan priests. Like monks, Dominican friars live in community with their brothers, and have a regular schedule of prayer, meals, and meetings in common. Like monks, Dominicans take the vows of poverty (renouncing the right to individual property and holding all things in common), chastity, and obedience. Also like monks, Dominican friars are to spend part of each day in silence and contemplation, so that they have the space to pray and study.

Unlike monks, and like diocesan priests, Dominican friars serve “in the world” by preaching, pastoral care, and teaching. Also unlike monks, Dominican friars are “itinerant:” rather than residing in one monastery for life they are periodically reassigned to different places as needs arise.

Similarly, a priory has much in common with a monastery, in order to provide space for silence, contemplation, and community life. However, a priory tends to be smaller than a monastery (since it is one of many Dominican residences in a Province) and located in a city or populated area, so as to be near the people and places that the friars serve.

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Why have the Dominican friars had a recent increase in vocations? Do some of their vocations come from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish?

On August 7, 21 men received the Dominican habit and began their novitiate (the first year of training) for our Dominican Province of St. Joseph, making them the largest class since 1966. On August 15, eight men completed their novitiate and are about to begin their first year of formal studies for the priesthood. One of these eight is Bro. John Baptist Hoang, O.P., who graduated from U.Va. in 2009. Bro. John Baptist recently stopped by our parish office on his way to the Dominican House of Studies in Washington to say hello and thank you for our prayers.

In a recent article by the Catholic News Service (look for it in the upcoming issue of The Catholic Virginian), one reason given by the incoming novices for pursuing a vocation to the Dominicans is the fraternal support that comes from living in a community of priests rather than alone, as many parish priests do today. Community life brings its own challenges, but it also offers brotherhood and accountability through a life structured by regular communal prayer, meals, and recreation. In the priory that we hope to build here at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, we hope to allow this Dominican community life to flourish—the kind of life that has drawn many of the men who pursue a Dominican vocation.

While students and parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish have pursued vocations to priesthood and religious life (including to the diocesan priesthood), there are several Dominican friars who are alumni of U.Va., including Bro. John Baptist Hoang, Fr. Gregory Maturi, Fr. John Baptist Ku, Fr. David Mott, and Fr. Brian Mulcahy.

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Are the Dominicans under the authority of the local bishop? Don’t they have their own government as well?

The Dominicans are under the authority of the local bishop, for the bishop is the pastor of his diocese, and has the responsibility and authority for all of the ministry that takes place in his diocese, just as the pastor has for his parish. Every Dominican friar also promises obedience to his Dominican superiors (at the worldwide, provincial, and local level) as well as to the rule of life and constitutions that govern the Order of Preachers. So, while the Order of Preachers governs a friar’s formation, his rule of life, and his assignments, he exercises pastoral ministry under the authority of the local bishop.

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Who makes the decision to transfer Dominican friars to or from St. Thomas Aquinas parish? How do we know how long a given friar will stay here?

Ordinarily it is the Prior Provincial of the Dominican province who makes the assignments of individual friars from one place to another, after consultation with the friar himself and after considering the needs of the Province, the local Dominican community, and the place of ministry. If a community is a priory (having at least six friars in solemn vows assigned there), the community can elect its own superior (the Prior) for a term of three years, renewable once. The Prior Provincial can veto (“cassate”) this election, but does so only for a serious reason. Because of the various three-year election cycles of the priories in a Dominican province, because a priory community is free to elect any eligible friar in the province, and because when a friar is elected as Prior in one community the Provincial often needs to assign a replacement to the Prior’s previous community, there really is no way to know how long a given friar will stay in any one assignment. However, the Prior Provincial does his best to ensure a reasonable continuity in each Dominican parish and place of ministry.

Whenever a friar receives a new assignment (whether by appointment or election), the Prior Provincial must ask and receive the permission of the local bishop of the diocese of the friar’s new assignment in order for the friar to exercise any pastoral ministry in that diocese.

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How will the ongoing operating expenses of the priory be paid?

Since the priory will be owned by the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, the Dominican friars will be ultimately responsible for the operating expenses of the priory. Since the friars take a vow of poverty, any income that they receive is given to their local Dominican community. Thus, the friars who are on staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish (by diocesan guidelines, the maximum number of full time salaries for priests that any parish can pay is three) will contribute their salaries to the Dominican community, and (also in accord with diocesan guidelines) the parish will pay for their normal food, household, and utilities expenses.

However, since not all the friars in the priory will be on staff at the parish, the parish will only pay a proportion of the food/household/utilities expenses of the priory. For example, if three friars are on the parish staff, and three friars are involved in other ministries, the parish will pay half of the food/household/utilities expenses, and the Dominican community will pay the other half.

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Is this a Dominican project or a St. Thomas Aquinas Parish project? Who will own the priory building and the land on which it is built?

The priory is a project of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, and the priory and the land on which it is built will be owned by the Province. This is because, with at least six Dominican friars assigned to the priory, some of the friars will be involved in ministries beyond St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. For example, Fr. William Garrott, O.P., who has been assigned to live with the friars here in Charlottesville and will arrive in Advent, will be involved primarily in preaching parish missions and retreats. Charlottesville will be his home base, and he will help out at St. Thomas Aquinas when he is home, but he will be spending much of his time “on the road” giving parish missions all over our Province and beyond.

Fr. Garrott will be the fifth friar in our Charlottesville community, and the other four will work primarily at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. So, while the priory is a Dominican project, we are seeking the help of the people of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, since our service to the Catholic community at the University of Virginia will remain our first priority even as the number of Dominican friars in Charlottesville grows.

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What is the cost breakdown of the priory, and why is the total cost significantly higher than building an ordinary parish rectory?

At this time, the estimated total cost of the priory project will be 4.8 million dollars. A concise breakdown of the expenses is as follows:

  • 3.2M Construction
  • 0.3M Design
  • 0.3M Contingency
  • 0.125M Finishing & Furnishings
  • 0.6M Property Purchase
  • 0.275M Fundraising and Finance costs

The total cost is more than one would expect for a parish rectory, but then, this is not a parish rectory. A rectory is normally home to one or two diocesan priests who serve a single parish. Because diocesan priests tend to pray independently and live alone or in small numbers, a rectory usually does not have or need significant common areas like a chapel, a library, or a sizable dining area.

A priory is home to a community of six or more Dominican friars (this priory will have room for eight) and must provide the essential habitat in which a true Dominican community life can flourish. Therefore, in addition to modest individual cells (bedrooms), a priory has a chapel suitable for all the friars to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and celebrate Mass in common with ample room for guests, a refectory (dining room) where the friars can take their meals together, a shared library with resources for their study and preaching, and space where the friars can gather for regular community meetings and recreation. The increased number of friars will not only expand the pastoral ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, the University, and the UVA Hospital, but will extend our ministry to other parts of the Diocese through the ability to answer more requests for help with Masses and confessions at other parishes, and by offering parish missions and retreats.

Our priory is designed to be modest in its component rooms and spaces, yet with durable materials that will make the building last for a hundred years, as a sign of the Province of St. Joseph’s commitment to the people St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and the wider area for many years to come.

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Where do the Dominicans here currently live, and what is their house like?

The Dominicans live in a residential house at 308 Alderman Road, a short walk north from the church. It is a two story house with a partially finished basement, originally built as a family residence.

Until this summer, the second floor had two bedrooms and a very small house chapel; the first floor had two bedrooms, a living room with a connecting small dining area; and the finished part of the basement had a T.V. room and two bedrooms (one is rather small). When the two student brothers came for the summer, the total number of friars in the house rose to six, which made the chapel too tight for everyone to pray comfortably together, so we moved the chapel to one of the bedrooms on the first floor, made the basement T.V. room into a bedroom, and moved the T.V. into the very small room on the second floor. The new, bigger location of the chapel is working much better and we can now actually pray Morning and Evening Prayer in the Dominican way, since there is room to kneel, sit, stand, and bow as we pray the Psalms, alternating verses from one side of the chapel to the other. However, when Fr. William Garrott, O.P. arrives in Advent, bringing our number of permanently assigned friars to five, we will have two friars living in the basement and only one small guest room.

Our house has some advantages (such as four bathrooms), but also significant disadvantages for Dominicans. It lacks a library (we currently have only a few bookcases in the front hallway), and the house chapel, though no longer tiny, is still small and provisional and cannot accommodate outside guests who might want to pray with us. The living/dining room is now the only common area that can hold the whole community for meetings or recreation. The house is cozy, and is certainly livable, though with five permanent friars it will be pretty full. A priory would not be merely livable, but would allow our Dominican community life to thrive.

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What is a day in the life of a Dominican friar like?

Here is a typical schedule of a friar on a weekday:

7:15am Morning Prayer and Office of Readings in our house chapel with the other friars
8:00am Breakfast
9:00am Come in to the parish office. In the office a friar would, for example:

  • Meet with a couple for marriage preparation
  • Hear a confession (by appointment or walk-in)
  • Spiritual direction
  • Meet/plan with parish staff members about upcoming events
  • Do homily preparation and study
  • Visit a patient in the hospital to visit, pray, and give the sacrament Anointing of the Sick
  • Make, receive, and return phone calls; work on e-mail correspondence

(Midday prayer in private)

12:25pm Mass at UVA Chapel
1:00pm to 2:00pm Office hours outside of Newcomb Hall, to be available for any students, faculty or staff who would like to meet, ask a question, chat, or have a bite to eat.
2:30pm Back to the office.
5:45pm Evening Prayer with the other friars in the house chapel
6:00pm Community recreation with the other friars—a chance to talk about our day
6:30pm Dinner with the other friars
7:30pm Evening events at the parish (such as prayer meeting, RCIA, confessions, etc.) or perhaps a marriage preparation appointment)
(Night prayer in private)
6:30pm Dinner with the other friars

Each friar is also encouraged to spend time in individual prayer each day, as well as help with the household responsibilities.

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Where are we now on the timeline for the priory project?

  1. Preliminary design and cost estimates were complete in early July 2010.
  2. Since the cost of some materials have risen since the original budget estimate for the priory over a year ago, the priory building committee together with Fr. Luke considered over 40 ideas to trim costs on the construction while preserving the essential elements of the priory building, and decided to implement approximately 20 of them. These value management ideas in the design will result in nearly $400,000 in savings based on current prices, and should keep the total construction budget within $3.2M (thus maintaining the overall priory project budget at $4.8M.) Some of the major value management ideas accepted include:
    1. Simplified cella (bedroom) design that reduces overall priory square footage
    2. Simplified some details of the Chapel, while maintaining the same design
    3. Simplified various finishes
  3. The City of Charlottesville provided preliminary site approval on 20 September, 2010.
  4. Design is progressing with draft construction documents scheduled for late October 2010.
  5. City final site approval expected late November 2010.
  6. Final construction documents expected early January 2011.

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