The Order of Preachers is undergoing a renewal, with its first Australian ordination in 10 years and an increased presence among youth since World Youth Day 2008.
Anthony Barich reports.
When Archbishop Philip Wilson ordained 31-year-old Mannes Tellis to the Order of Preachers on December 20 at St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Adelaide, it was the first in Australia for the Dominicans for 10 years since the ordination of Sydney-based Fr Dominic Murphy OP.
Fr Murphy has an impressive presence in the surging Catholic youth movement in the Eastern states. He has 1543 ‘friends’ on the social networking site Facebook, on which young and old Catholics alike are building bridges and building the kingdom of God through the promotion of various initiatives.
Fr Murphy coordinated the Order’s World Youth Day initiatives and, according to Fr Mannes, was the inspiration behind some of the four new postulants who have signed up in recent months. Three of these are from Sydney, one from New Zealand.
The Dominicans have also benefited from Anthony Fisher OP, a scholar in bioethics, when he was consecrated an Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney by Cardinal George Pell, and especially when he was the face of World Youth Day Sydney 2008 as its chief organiser.
Bishop Fisher, clearly identifiable as a Dominican in his Order’s white Dominican habit, became a regular feature during WYD08.
Always positive yet forthright when it came to defending the faith, he turned heads not only in the secular world but became a sign of hope for the Church and his Order in Australia, according to Fr Mannes.
Like most Religious, Dominicans live in community and, Fr Mannes says, are strengthened by its fraternity and solidarity and the knowledge from sources within their own ranks, like St Thomas Aquinas.
Fr Mannes was in the spotlight in July last year when he chanted the Gospel before Pope Benedict XVI, over 400,000 pilgrims and a global audience of millions at the closing Mass at WYD08 at Royal Randwick Racecourse.
Fr Mannes, whose birth name was Paul, took his Religious name from St Dominic’s older brother from their mother’s previous marriage. Blessed Mannes Guzman was one of the first friars to join his brother’s Order when it was founded in 1216.
Blessed Mannes’ mother, Joan of Azam, is also a Blessed known for her charity to the poor. Fr Mannes was also inspired by his own family, growing up in a practising Catholic family where the priesthood was viewed as an important role in society.
“The priesthood was always seen as something to aspire, to, not something on the side, as society sees it,” Fr Mannes says.
After St Dominic’s death, Blessed Mannes heavily promoted the cult of his younger brother throughout Spain. Dominic was also very contemplative yet was a fervent preacher, as Fr Mannes says he is known to be.
Fr Mannes was drawn to the priesthood through the example of his local diocesan parish priest, who he says was a very prayerful man dedicated to serving God’s people.
Wearing the distinctive black and white Dominican habit is important for Fr Mannes as it provides a focus for both himself and others.
“People don’t know what to make of you,” Fr Mannes says of wearing the habit.
“Sometimes you get weird looks or questions; they don’t often associate it with being Christian except the Rosary beads, but it provides a focus that the Church does not just sit on the sidelines, it is fully into the world.”
He finds solace in the vows of obedience, poverty and chastiy. “The good thing about the vow of obedience is you don’t make up your own show; you’re obedient to your superior who stands in the place of Christ and sends you out,” he says.
“That goes in the face of what we as a society are about today – we all want to be individuals, but our vow says you’re not a lone ranger.”
He says that the public scandal of pedophilia among the priesthood breeds suspicion among the public and makes it difficult to enter people’s lives, but “you have to work with that and meet them halfway”. Reading the works of the great Dominican Doctor of the Church St Thomas Aquinas, known for his approach to faith through reason, was also a big reason why Fr Mannes joined the Order of Preachers.
“He gave reasonable arguments of how and why God exists, and that struck me as worthwhile as it was a clear, reasonable explanation of the faith. Aquinas says humans are reasonable creatures, even if we can’t understand fully things like the Trinity, we can still try to understand what it’s about. Otherwise we fall into ‘we just believe it though we can’t explain it’.”
Fr Mannes, who studied for nine years at St Dominic’s Priory in Camberwell, Victoria, says part of what drew him to the Order of Preachers was gaining strength from living and praying in a community, and the fact that what they preach is specifically doctrinal, following the teachings of the Church and expressing it with clarity.
“For Dominicans, preaching isn’t about making people feel better about themselves, it’s preaching and teaching. They go together as one,” he said.
Dominicans are also known as an academic order, studying at the service of the Church “is the reason why we exist”.
The immediate challenge for Fr Mannes is not further study, however, but finding ways of teaching through preaching to the students as chaplain at Black Friars Priory School in Adelaide – a Catholic primary and high school.
He says that only half the students are baptised Catholic, and even then, he finds it hard to communicate with children who have grown up in today’s secular culture. This is not so much an indictment on the school but on society at large.
“Going out into the playground and talking to kids, they’re not interested sometimes in who you are, as they have no connection with the Church. It has no meaning for them. It’s hard to break into that,” he says.
“Only 50 per cent are Catholic – and even then how many would actually darken the doors of a church? The funny thing is some of the students that are religious – some are Muslim – are usually the best in class who have respect for religious things as they live it in their lives because it’s in their background.
“They’re showing us how it should be, that you can mix your faith with your life, and they’re not two separate things.”
Since he entered the Dominican House of Study nine years ago, Fr Mannes says he has grown more acutely aware of his own weaknesses and deficiencies, yet finds himself redeemed through God’s love which the Church helps bring to the fore.
“It’s like first you’re falling in love, all starry eyed about what Religious life is like, then 10 years later you wake up to the reality that you’re still in love with her but you realise her faults,” he said of Religious life.
They say you join the order for one reason and you stay for another, and I think that definitely was the case for me. I joined first as I wanted it for myself, but I stayed because of actually wanting to help.
“As a priest you’re at the service of other people, to bring them to Christ in whatever way is possible.”