How Do Dominicans Elect Their Leaders?

As itinerant preachers, Dominicans are constantly on the go, traveling from place to place in order to proclaim the Gospel for the salvation of souls. After a certain number of years, every friar will be assigned to a ministry in a new place, based on the needs of the community and the particular gifts he possesses.

While this is true in all situations, there are also those in which a friar is not just assigned to a ministry, he is also elected. Such is the case in our larger communities, commonly referred to as priories. A priory is made up of at least six, solemnly professed friars with a leader whom they elect. Just as a pastor is in charge of a parish, a prior is the superior of a Dominican community.

After six years of faithful service at St. Albert's Priory, our house of studies in Oakland, Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P., has completed his term as prior. This means that the community recently had to come together in order to elect a new prior. Many are surprised to learn that this process is very similar to that of a constitutional republic.

Once a prior's term ends, the sub-prior calls for a meeting of the chapter within the community. The chapter includes all solemnly professed friars assigned to the community with active voice. After a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit in which the community prays for guidance, the chapter gathers to set a time for an election and to discuss the merits, qualifications and eligibility of different candidates. For instance, because of the priestly duties required of a prior, a cooperator brother is not eligible, except with special permission from the Master of the Order of Preachers and the understanding that those sacramental duties will be handled by a priest.

In addition to his liturgical duties, a prior "must promote regular and apostolic life; should provide for the brothers' needs; [and] should be concerned that the brothers fulfill their personal obligations" (LCO, 299). A prior is also a voting member of the body which elects the provincial (superior of the province). This is a great responsibility, thus the chapter is very conscientious in its deliberations.

Once the chapter has finished its discussion and the time for voting is reached, the members of the chapter will cast their votes by secret ballot until an absolute majority is achieved; up to seven votes. The results are then passed on to the provincial, who consults the elected friar and then approves or cassates (annuls) the election. Typically a cassation only occurs if the needs of the province are greater than that of a particular priory. Once the election is approved, the chapter is informed and the community sings the Te Deum in celebration.

On February 16, this process resulted in the election of Fr. Michael Augustine Amabisco, O.P., as the newest prior of St. Albert's. Fr. Michael Augustine was ordained to the priesthood in 2010 and has served as pastor at St. Andrew Newman Center in Riverside, and St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Berkeley.

While Fr. Reginald will remain at St. Albert's to maintain the province's archives, the community looks forward to the arrival of Fr. Michael Augustine with great joy.