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Dominican vocations on the West Coast: ‘A real sign of hope’

September 24, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

On the eve of the 800th anniversary of its founding, the West Coast Dominicans are seeing an increase in the number of men entering the Order of Preachers.

“It’s a real sign of hope,” said Dominican Father Stephen Maria Lopez, vocations director for the Dominican Friars of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which was established during the Gold Rush in 1850 and encompasses Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. The Order of Preachers was founded by St. Dominic Guzman, the son of a Spanish nobleman, in 1216 in France.

In more than a year, 14 men have entered the formation program of the Western Dominican Province. There are a total of 27 men between the province’s novitiate in San Francisco and house of studies in Oakland. Six men entered as novices Sept. 3 in San Francisco and eight men professed first vows on Sept. 5 in Oakland.

“These are intelligent, well-educated men, all have at least a bachelor’s degree,” said Father Lopez, who said those entering come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, attracted by a rich intellectual and spiritual tradition that includes the 13th-century doctor of the church St. Thomas Aquinas.

“What attracts them to the order is the Dominican charism of preaching and teaching. They see the great need for it,” said Father Lopez, who was ordained in 2010. “And then the common life. That’s huge for young men. It’s not just about being priests. They want a common life. They want to be with other like-minded men who share that deep desire to preach the Gospel.”

That is true for Brother Damien Lach from Corvallis, Oregon, one of the eight men who professed first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at St. Albert the Great Priory in Oakland Sept. 5.

“I joined the Dominican Order because I want to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it,” said Brother Damien, 25, who entered the Catholic Church while an undergraduate at the University of Oregon where the Dominicans staff the St. Thomas More Newman Center. “This work of evangelization is the fundamental mission of the Dominicans.”

The eight men who professed first vows are: Brother Richard Berquist, Brother Joshua Gatus, Brother Lach, Brother Joseph Selinger, Brother David Chiavetta, Brother Matthew Heynen, Brother John Bausch, and Brother Martin Maria Nguyen.

In addition, six young men entered as novices in a vestition ceremony Sept. 3 at St. Dominic Church where they were clothed with the Dominican habit. They will spend a year at the novitiate at the priory at St. Dominic, taking nonacademic classes and living Dominican community life, Father Lopez said.

After the novitiate year, the Dominicans move to the house of studies in Oakland and begin six years of studies at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and also a pastoral year. Cooperator brothers take a slightly different path since they are not called to the priesthood. While they do study some philosophy and theology, they might take on another area of study suited to their future ministry in the order.

The six novices who entered Sept. 3 are: Brother Damien Dominic Nguyen, Brother Joseph Marie Dinh, Brother Columban Mary Hall, Brother Patrick Rooney, Brother Scott Norgaard, and Brother Andrew Marie McCullough.


Dominicans priests and brothers operate parishes, campus ministries and a retreat house as well as the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. In the archdiocese, Dominicans have St. Dominic Church in San Francisco and staff St. Raymond in Menlo Park. They also staff the campus ministry at Stanford University. For more information about their ministries throughout the Western Province, go to opwest.org.

For more information about a Dominican vocation, contact Father Stephen Maria Lopez, OP, at vocations@opwest.org or (510) 658.8722. Discernment weekends will be held Nov. 6-8, Nov. 20-22 and March 4-6, 2016.

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