Four Pillars of Dominican Life
What makes a college Dominican?
There are many reasons that students choose to attend Molloy College. The academic programs are rigorous and well respected. The campus environment is vibrant and offers students many opportunities for study abroad, club and student government activities, service trips and much more. Beyond all of this, Molloy is a special place because it is a Catholic college founded in the Dominican tradition.
What makes a college Dominican?
The Order of Preachers (also known as the Dominican Order), founded in the 12th century by Dominic, was established to bring a unique gift to the church, indeed to the world. Dominic believed that there were four essential elements to being Dominican, and for us today, to being a college in the Dominican tradition. These elements include:
- An emphasis on the value of study
- An emphasis on the importance of the community
- An emphasis on service to others
- An emphasis on reflection and prayer/having a spiritual practice
The faculty, staff, and administration at Molloy believe that an emphasis on study, community, service to others, and reflection or spirituality can enrich your life and the lives of those around you while you are a student and beyond. That’s why the College has made the Dominican tradition central to the college’s mission:
Molloy College, an independent, Catholic college, rooted in the Dominican tradition of study, spirituality, service, and community, is committed to academic excellence with respect for each person. Through transformative education, Molloy promotes a lifelong search for truth and the development of ethical leadership.
It was Dominic’s insight that it would be the combination, the interaction of all four elements in sync with each other, which would make the difference; in a sense all four are the fuel energizing this Dominican way. In fact, one of Molloy College’s recent graduates from the Division of Education has stated: “Molloy tries to instill these four pillars into our education in order for us to become preachers within our everyday lives. Molloy is preparing us to become more than just great teachers, nurses, business men/women, etc., but rather to be catalysts for change and good throughout the world.”
At Molloy College, we have created a banner with four quadrants, each representing one of the four pillars. The banner uses the metaphor of the four seasons – winter, spring, summer and fall - to depict each of these essential Dominican elements.
Our first pillar - Community - is depicted by autumn, the season of color and change; for it is first of all the seasons when we, as a community, come together each year and recognize the changes as people have left, moved on, graduated. There is an awareness of new faces, new students, staff, faculty, administrators. Yet, beyond these initial comparisons, the season displays diversity in the multiple colors and the vivid changes inviting us as a community to celebrate our diversity, to appreciate the differences among us, for together they form a most beautiful and colorful landscape.
The way of the Dominican college or university must be rooted in the value of relationships. We want to create a hospitable environment, welcoming all to this campus because we recognize that ultimately we are all connected and that what we do together is stronger than our individual endeavors. There will be numerous opportunities for you to participate in college life and meet new friends. This way is not an individualistic path; rather, the needs of the community and the capacity to participate in a collective effort to make a "better world" will always mark that which is Dominican. Donald Georgan OP speaks of this pillar as "friendship" as he reminds us that we are all part of a Dominican family (2007).
And so, we ask each of you to think about what type of persons would be persons who value the common good or the "community". What qualities would they possess? How would they act and what would their preferred style of interaction be with their fellow classmates and the broader local and global community?
The season of spring is always depicted as the time of new growth and new life. This image helps us understand the Dominican meaning of study. The intellectual life is best expressed in the capacity to be curious and open in order to cultivate the "budding forth of new ideas," to have a sense of wonder that invites us all to be life-long learners. It finds expression not only in its obvious place - our classrooms - but equally in the way we WORK with one another and encourage a new idea, the different perspective, allowing it the space and the time to take root. In that sense, Dominican study can only take root in a person who is comfortable with reflection, occasionally involving time alone and time in silence. At times, it requires deep questioning of the other to excavate the truth found within the many competing socio-political perspectives that surround us today. This deep questioning and active curiosity is known to Dominicans as "disputatio"-the capacity not only to ask the questions, but to be equally open and receptive to the other point of view.
Timothy Radcliff, OP, past Master of the Dominican Order, said that "study is not learning how to be clever but how to listen... ; this receptivity, this opening of the ear which marks all real study is deeply linked to prayer" (Radcliffe, 2007).
For Dominic, seeking always to discover the truth was his first priority. And this quest defines the intellectual life. To embrace the pillar of study is to "remain a seeker." Many of the early Dominican saints like Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Catherine of Siena have had a lasting impact on our understanding of contemplation, study and the pursuit of truth.
As institutions within the Dominican tradition and as seekers of truth, we are never content with the status quo. The notion of "disputatio" and debate is seen as essential; there is a fundamental recognition that we will, at times, disagree, debate and confront one another's perspectives in this search for truth that we embrace. According to Timothy Radcliffe, the university contributes to the building of the human community and to the art of dialogue. He further asserts that this type of dialogue (disputatio) learned and practiced will ultimately "contribute to the healing of our bruised world."
And so we ask each of you to consider what it is to become a person of study. What kinds of attributes will you possess and what dispositions will you cultivate in order to be a seeker of truth, not just during your time at Molloy but as you embark on your life and your future?
Spirituality is depicted by winter; the season of going within, being still - aware of the silence as snow falls, aware of the darkness as the days are shorter. What better metaphor for the season of prayer/spirituality. It is the call to be still, to slow down and to listen to the silence. This season finds expression not only in being reflective but equally in our capacity to appreciate the beauty around us; to reverence the artistic expression, the poetry, music and dance; to be reflective about the work we do, about who we are. The contemplative resides very close to the creative.
Perhaps this pillar, inviting us to maintain a reflective stance-a capacity to pause, seek silence and space apart-is most foundational to the Dominican way. It is a way that places the contemplative at the center. "Dominicans are convinced that the world in which we live, turbulent and restless, often violent and terrifying, is at the same time the place where the holy comes to light" (Radcliffe, 2001).
This spirituality leads us ever more deeply to a knowledge of self. Catherine of Siena, a 14th Century Dominican saint, speaks beautifully of this type of self-knowledge as she declares that making "the journey towards self knowledge is where I shall discover how small, flawed and finite I am, but I shall also see that I am utterly loved and valued" (The Dialogue, 13-14). As this spiritual journey to self-knowledge grew for Catherine, it was evident that it was, indeed "the secret of her peace and her dynamism, her confidence and her humility" (Radcliffe, 2000).
And so it is that at Molloy, we are called upon to place this pillar at the center of who it is that we are and are becoming. The beauty of the Dominican way of spirituality is that it is wide open to all. We may be members of the Jewish, Catholic or other Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim traditions or even non-religious, but we are all seekers joined together by our humanity. As our Jewish brother, Abraham Joshua Heschel, said of this spiritual way, "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement . . . . get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual (contemplative) is to be amazed."
Again, we ask you to take time to reflect on your gifts-those you possess now and those you hope to develop as a member of this Molloy community. How do you cultivate a sense of wonder and amazement as you live each day? What are the ways of a person you consider to be spiritual (in the way that Abraham Heschel defines spirituality)? What attributes or actions define him or her?
Finally, there is the season of summer, of being in "full bloom." It is the season of service, the notion of being fruitful and sharing the abundance of who we are with others, particularly those who are least among us. Molloy students are involved in providing service within our local communities that are in need, as well as in other parts of the world. For example, students from many different disciplines all travel to a very poor area in Jamaica; the student nurses diagnose and treat those in the local community; our speech and language pathology students work with primary schools in Kingston, evaluating hearing and speech; music therapy students work with a psychiatric program for abused young girls. A psychiatric program including art therapy students from Yale works with the same group of girls, and now Molloy's Clinical Mental Health Program is bringing students to work with the psych team. All students complete clinical hours while in Jamaica. In a different outreach, our social work, education and psychology students participate in providing support to the homeless of NYC, tutoring students in need of support and providing help at local soup kitchens. Many of our students, quietly and without notice, give of themselves every day in so many ways. We frequently comment at Molloy that there is a universal habit of holding the door open for one another as we travel the campus each day. In a simple, but profound, way that action displays our care for one another.
The Dominican perspective on service is that it is inextricably linked to contemplation. Dominicans proclaim, "Contemplare et contemplata aliis trader"; translated the phrase means "to contemplate and give to others the fruit of that contemplation."
It is that capacity to let all of our actions be guided by the internal motivations that arise out of silence and reflection and a deep connection to God and each other. Service, for Dominicans, integrates contemplation and compassion. "Compassion is contemplation in the Dominican sense. Contemplative compassion is learning to look selflessly at others" (Radcliffe, 2001). Further, says Radcliffe, our commitment to justice can so easily become ideological, become a whirlwind of activity, if it is not born of contemplative compassion.
As you continue to reflect on this Dominican way, what do you consider to be the qualities of a person who possesses a deep, internal sense of being of service to others? Take a moment to reflect on your own desire to be of service to others. Do you willingly participate, as you are able to, in projects and causes that enhance our human community?
When all four banners are joined together, the circle is complete.