By Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP and Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, OP. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2021. Pp. 130; $15.95. Available from Our Sunday Visitor.
Reviewed by Fr. James-Peter Trares, OP
Provice of St. Albert the Great | Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum)
This book, cowritten by two Dominican priests (with a preface by Peter John Cameron, OP, and an epilogue by current Master of the Dominican Order, Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP) presents St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), as a model for Christian life today. Although St. Dominic is arguably less well-known than other Dominican saints (for example St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Catherine of Siena) and although he left behind very few written works, the authors argue that Dominic’s exemplary life and spirituality which he passed on in the Order he founded are worthy of emulation. Relying primarily upon anecdotes about St. Dominic, Briscoe and Jancyzk offer eight principal virtues or emphases manifested in the holy founder’s life: (1) love for Sacred Scripture, (2) pursuit of truth, (3) concern for ecclesial unity, (4) rich contemplative life, (5) communal friendship ordered toward union with God, (6) chastity ordered toward love, (7) preaching mission, and (8) Marian devotion. Although St. Dominic lived eight centuries ago, the authors argue that his spirituality is accessible to all and is especially needed in the present age.
At a short 130 pages (plus endnotes), this book is intended for a general Catholic audience as an introduction to St. Dominic and Dominican spirituality. The authors take care to explain historical context and religious life jargon that may not be familiar to many Catholics and Christians today. They use an accessible and energetic writing style that reminds one of a spoken spiritual conference. The book cites various historical sources and contemporary Dominican authors, as well as bringing in various papal and magisterial texts for support. However, those looking for a critical, comprehensive biography of St. Dominic should look elsewhere, such as St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar by Donald Goergen, OP (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2016) or The Life of Saint Dominic by Bede Jarrett, OP (Providence, RI: Cluny Media 2018). The goal of this text is instead to present a portrait of the saint’s distinctive vision and holiness and to offer ways in which people from various states of life may apply these aspects in their daily lives today.
The authors achieve this goal very well. They effectively bridge the past and present by explaining why the Church needs modern-day saints modeled after St. Dominic and offering practical ways in which ordinary Christians can integrate Dominican spirituality. Because the authors have a broad audience in mind, their applications do tend to be generic, but their discussion stimulates the reader to deeper reflection and action. Indeed, had they included questions for reflection or discussion with each chapter, the book would have been even more useful. As it stands, this well written, accessible text would be best suited to lay Catholics looking for spiritual reading and wanting to get to know St. Dominic. It would be especially helpful for those in Dominican institutions (parishes, schools, etc.) as a foundation for discussing and integrating Dominican spirituality. It would also be a useful introductory text for those considering a Dominican vocation and for those in the various branches of the Dominican family in the early stages of formation. While those well-acquainted with St. Dominic and Dominican spirituality may find the material already familiar, the collection of stories about St. Dominic and the authors’ insights are a fruitful resource for preaching and teaching.