Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meet Father Benedict Croell, O.P.

Courtesy of Dominican Province of Saint Joseph
Meet Father Benedict Croell:

Having chanced upon my blog one day, Fr. Benedict Croell, Director of Vocations for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, and I began to toss about the idea of doing a little interview concerning vocations and religious life.  Humbly, I submit Fr. Benedict's replies here - may they inspire you as much as they do me!

1.  Tell the readers a little about yourself and your vocation with the Dominicans.  Are you a convert or cradle Catholic?  When did you decide to join the Order?

I grew up a cradle Catholic in Colorado.  I studied at Colorado State University and then Conception Seminary College for the Archdiocese of Denver. I obtained a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Providence College while discerning a vocation to religious life. I entered the novitiate of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph  (Eastern USA) in 1992, and was ordained a priest in 1998. I was assigned first to St. Gertrude Church and Priory in Cincinnati, Ohio as associate pastor for four years. In 2002 I was assigned to our Province's mission in Eastern Africa, serving in Kenya for five years. I was Novice Master for novices from seven African countries. Returning from the missions, I served briefly at the University Church of St. Joseph at New York University before continuing studies in Rome. In June 2010 I completed the License in Sacred Theology (Spiritual Theology) from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) where I also served as a chaplain for two years. I just finished my second year as vocation director.

2.  You mentioned accepting a new class of novices - can you tell me a bit about that?  Have vocations grown or decreased in, say the last ten years or so?

Our numbers of vocations have been increasing in the last 10 years. In 2010 we had 21 men enter which was our largest class in 44 years.  Last year we accepted 13 men and this year again we have 13 men entering our novitiate for 2012.  The Lord has been very good!  There are many young men interested in the Dominicans. Traffic into our provincial website (www.DominicanFriars.org) is up and the greatest number of hits beyond our latest posts are the vocation links.  My blog for men discerning, "Order of Preachers Vocations" is also doing well.  Our current novices are scheduled to make their simple profession of vows on the feast of the Assumption in Cincinnati.

3.  What are the central aspects of Dominican spirituality for you, that separate the order from others?

The way of life which St. Dominic founded is apostolic.  For the Dominican, it is a mixed life of contemplative prayer and preaching.  Our "all-star," St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about 3 kinds of religious life  (II-IIae Q. 188, a.6). "The difference between one religious order and another depends chiefly on the end, and secondarily on the exercise." For Aquinas the highest is that which through an abundance of contemplation illuminates or overflows with teaching and preaching.  You can probably guess which religious order he considered the best!  Like other communities, we have a strong devotion to our Lady. Ours is characterized by the preaching of the Incarnation through the rosary as a weapon for fighting heresy - which is why we wear it on our belt like a sword.  St. Dominic was a man of the liturgy, so the sung choral Divine Office is also important. All of these elements come together in a harmonious way, and it all leads to the holy preaching.  In other words, everything we observe as friars preachers is lived so that we might preach for the salvation of souls.

Our Fundamental Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers also says:  "We also undertake as sharers of the apostolic mission the life of the Apostles in the form conceived by St. Dominic, living with one mind the common life, faithful in the profession of the evangelical counsels, fervent in the common celebration of the liturgy, especially of the Eucharist and the divine office as well as other prayer, assiduous in study, and persevering in regular observance."
Courtesy of the Dominican Province of Saint Joseph
4.  Have you gotten much attention in the secular media at all, say in a similar way to the Nashville Dominican Sisters?

Unfortunately no.  The Nashville Dominican Sisters along with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist ("Oprah" sisters) are booming in the US right now.   

I have received quite a bit of attention from other vocation directors asking what we are doing.  We currently have 80 friars at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC.  In just  our province right now (counting the novices) we have 60 friars in formation.  These are the largest numbers I have seen since I entered the Order.  The Dominican House of Studies is one of the largest  Dominican priories in the world.

5.  Tell me a little about the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, when it started, and what it's all about.

The Province of St. Joseph (Eastern) is 200 years old in the USA.  Our founder was Fr. Edward Dominic Fenwick OP from Maryland who went to England to enter the Order and then founded our province.  Since the Jesuits were already on the East Coast we were sent to the missions in Kentucky and Ohio by Bishop John Carroll.  Fenwick became the first bishop of Cincinnati.  We slowly made our way back to the East Coast - the Jesuits needed our help!  

Providence College, a liberal arts college in Rhode Island is the only Dominican college run by the friars in the USA.  We currently run the campus ministries at: Dartmouth College, New York University, University of Virginia (Charlottesville), American University, Johns Hopkins University, Quinnepiac University, University of Delaware.  We have parishes in New England and as far West as Kentucky and Ohio and as far South as Virginia.  We just built a large addition onto the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC due to lack of space!  We are building a new Dominican priory in Charlottesville, VA - that is our largest university parish. There we also teach more couples how to use Natural Family Planning than most parishes in the US.  At New York University on Washington Square Park in NYC we run the brand new Catholic Center at NYU and the University Parish of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village.  We have FOCUS missionaries helping us at New York University and they will come to UVA this Fall.  Our friars teach at various seminaries and universities as well. We also, as I said, have foreign missions in East Africa. 

6.  What advice can you give to those who are discerning religious life as a Dominican or otherwise?

I would say the first principle: it is not "rocket science."  Pray hard (including daily Mass), frequently go to confession, and consecrate yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary by praying the Rosary - she will show you the way.  Most of the men who come to us have done their homework. They know the difference between diocesan priesthood and religious priesthood (and Dominicans also have the cooperator brotherhood). They have read about the different kinds of religious life (for example, they know the difference between an OP and an SJ) and they have read some of the lives of the saints.  When you see or read about the ideals of a religious order - it will strike you as relevant for today.  For example, when men read about the battle the Dominicans faced with the Albigensian heresy and other problems of the day, they see similarities in our our own times and realize that doctrinal preaching for the salvation of souls and a common life of prayer and study is even more important for the Church today.

We have specific guidelines for men who want to discern more seriously with us which you can find here.  These suggestions would be helpful no matter where you ultimately go.

Finally, make a vocation weekend with us.  Believe it or not these weekends fill up early.  We generally want to meet your first in person before you come on a weekend.  When you personally meet our 80 friars here at the Dominican House of Studies in DC you will have a good idea of the kind of men entering our province.

7.  Who are the biggest influences (saints, theologians, etc.) in your spiritual life?

I think St. Dominic would have to be the one who has made the biggest impact on me.  I remember first reading about the Order and thinking if I could design my own religious order for today, it would look like the Order of Preachers!  His tender love for the Blessed Mother and his incredible zeal won me over.  Dominic would weep whenever he celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Mass. One time in his travels he met an innkeeper who was a heretic. His heart went out to him and he stayed up all night talking with him leading him to the Truth. In the morning he was reconciled to the Catholic Faith.

Intellectually the common doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas has been huge for me.  His understanding of God's grace working through and perfecting our human nature has forever been the content of my preaching and understanding of what God is accomplishing in my life.

I cannot forget another doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena.  Her mystical way of talking about the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ deepened my understanding of God's love for us.

8.  Who is Jesus to you?

He is my all, He is my Savior, He is Mercy and He is Love!

Extremely humble thanks to Fr. Benedict Croell for this interview, his readership, and his kind words!

1 comment:

  1. As someone thinking about being a Dominican, I found this interview extremely helpful for me. Thanks!!!