Dominicans pray for the dead – a lot. Every day before the main meal, we pray the De Profundis (Psalm 130) for our deceased friars and benefactors. In our Province of St. Joseph, we also name the American friars who died on the following day, allowing our prayers for all the deceased to be linked with the remembrance of particular individuals. Our constitutions require each community to celebrate one Mass per week for the deceased brothers, sisters, parents of those brothers and sisters, familiars, and benefactors of the Order. Each brother is likewise required to pray the rosary once a week for the same intention. In our Dominican House of Studies, we close Compline each night with the prayer, “May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Our Province also puts out small prayer card–sized photos and biographies of our recently deceased brothers, to remember them and to pray for them. Being in the Order only three years, I really do not know many of the older friars well, especially those who have been living outside of Cincinnati or Washington, D.C., so it is interesting to read where they came from and the wide variety of ministries and assignments they had.
Recently, a new set of four cards came out. This time was different for me, as I personally knew two of the deceased friars: Br. Jude Locchetto and Fr. Clement Burns. Br. Jude had been in the Order just over 62 years and as his biography reads, “While at St. Dominic’s [in Washington, D.C.] he was known for regaling visiting student brothers with hilarious anecdotes from his many years in the Order.” He truly was a gifted story-teller, and I was on the receiving end of numerous stories, either about the House of Studies in the 1950s or his nearly fifty years of ministry in New Jersey.
Fr. Clem was the senior friar at the novitiate, and he loved to spend his afternoons enjoying the beauty of the garden, watching and feeding the birds. When I was gardener for one semester, he often gave me updates on how the various plants were improving and which ones needed a little more TLC. He remained active in his priestly ministry, hearing confessions every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon in the parish. Likewise, his prayer life continued steadily, always making it to community rosary and Office despite his slowly declining health and his walking problems.
One of the great gifts in the Dominican life, especially in houses of formation, is living with these senior friars. They provide a joyful model of living the fullness of Dominican life. Their continual fidelity to Community Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and community meals has been a daily reminder to me of the great blessings that come with community life in all its aspects, which is the foundation of our preaching. The tales they relate about their own lives as Dominicans are often only exceeded by the stories (apocryphal?) told about them by other friars. Religious life does truly transform a person, and most of the senior friars exude a great joy in the midst of sufferings and challenges. They seem to be at peace in this life, but ready when called to the next.
As I pray for all of our friars, living and deceased, I pray that they too will imitate Our Holy Father St. Dominic, who on his deathbed told the brethren that he would be of more use to them where he was going, rather than remaining with them in this life. May all our deceased friars intercede for my brothers and me, so that following in our elders’ footsteps, we too may become holy friars.
Fidelium animae per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen.
Image: Fr. Clem Burns, O.P.