The friendship of St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, and their orders

St. Francis and St. Dominic. Photo: Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock

For this feast day of St. Dominic, Catholic Digest reached out to both a Dominican friar and Franciscan friar to ask them both about a unique tradition. Each year, on the feast days of the respective saints of their orders (St. Dominic on Aug. 8; St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4), one order will receive the other for a day of celebration and comradery, in recognition of the bond their founders’ shared approximately 800 years ago.

Fr. Richard Goodin, OFM, is the director of vocations for the Province of St. John the Baptist which is based in Cincinnati; Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP, is the associate pastor of St. Pius V Catholic Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Fr. Goodin and Fr. Briscoe addressed these meetings of two of the Church’s greatest orders.

Q: What can you tell our readers about the history of visitation among Dominicans and Franciscans on the feast days of their respective patrons? Has your monastery in particular observed this tradition regularly?

Fr. Briscoe: The tradition of visitation between Dominicans and Franciscans on the feast of our respective patrons is based in the legend of an encounter between St. Francis and St. Dominic in Rome. The Dominican traditions tell us that having seen Francis in a vision the night before, Dominic recognized him and rushed to greet him.The same tales say a close friendship followed.

More historically, we can recognize that both Francis and Dominic enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal Ugolino (who went on to become Pope Gregory IX), who protected and supported their evangelical projects. Francis and Dominic needed the cardinal’s support, because the way of life of the friars was something novel and widely criticized at its inception.

Fr. Goodin: Lots of stories exist about Francis and Dominic interacting. Lots of stories exist about the Friars Minor (Franciscans) and the Friars Preacher (Dominicans) interacting in schools across Europe (Oxford, Paris, Cambridge, Salamanca, et cetera). Two notable theologian saints, St. Bonaventure (a friar minor) and St. Thomas Aquinas (a friar preacher) were teaching at the same time at the Sorbonne in Paris back in the mid 1200s. Both were well-established eggheads with volumes of important theological work to their credit. So, it seems that the OFM and the OP have always been around one another and “bouncing off each other” we might say.

As for the Province of St. John the Baptist of the OFM to which I belong, the friars minor around Cincinnati have invited the local friars preacher to gather on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4 at our curia (headquarters/motherhouse) which is named St. Francis Seraph. The Dominicans have their novitiate (house for novices, the fresh beginners in the order) nearby to our curia so when they accept our invitation to celebrate St. Francis day they bring over lots and lots of very young friars preacher!  So the friars minor gather at their headquarters church and the friars preacher, along with their youngest members. They come over for prayer, fraternity, and food.

Q: What typically transpires during one of these visitations? How does the visiting order contribute to the celebration of the other’s founder?

Fr. Briscoe: While a novice and student brother (seminarian), I enjoyed these days. The observance of this tradition varies widely, according to local custom and ability. When I’ve observed it, we pray Vespers together or celebrate a Mass in which a visiting Dominican or Franciscan preaches. Often a festive meal follows. After all, St. Francis is said to have declared that on Christmas, “The walls should be covered with meat.”

Fr. Goodin: It is the custom that a Dominican friar preach during the Vespers service held before supper. An old fashioned pulpit swap we may say. So, the visiting Dominican friar will preach to the assembled group of friars! A festive round of cocktails follows with supper after that. And in my experience the volume of laughter tells the tale that when it comes to fraternity and food friars minor and friars preacher merge into a fun-friar-fest.

Q: Has this tradition been overall positive for both orders? Does it foster mutual cooperation, or perhaps friendly competition?

Fr. Briscoe: In Washington, D.C., the students at the Dominican House of Studies and Capuchin College have known great friendship and collaboration. The Hillbilly Thomists (an OP bluegrass band) has played at events at Capuchin College, like Cap Cafe. Often the Dominicans will invite the Caps to join us for Christmas caroling on the DC Metro. I even had two Franciscan priests as professors at our Dominican seminary!

Q: What do you usually take away from one of these encounters? What lessons can we as Catholics learn from the example of your orders?

Fr. Briscoe: The charism St. Dominic gave his order markedly differs from the vision St. Francis imparted to his followers. And yet both saints brilliantly witness the Gospel. The visits are a natural thing, as a deep love for the Church and a desire for others to know Christ deeply marks the Franciscan and Dominican ways of life. One of the great delights of the visitation is reveling in our differences! In the end, though, the Church needs both followers of Francis and sons of Dominic.

Q: Are there any amusing anecdotes from such meetings you’d be willing to share?

Fr. Briscoe: While a novice, the Dominican preacher began his homily at Vespers for the feast of St. Francis at St. Francis Seraph Church by growling, “You’re all a bunch of sinners … [there was a long awkward pause, then he proceeded] at least that’s what Francis would say.” Long and hearty laughter followed.

Fr. Goodin: When I was in Cincinnati for the occasion of the above yearly event I always found it exciting to see how many Dominican novices would be present. The Franciscan novices were in another part of the country so the young crowd of the evening was the notable large numbers of Dominican novices. This kept the evening rather high energy with lots of meet-and-greet.

New people to the party ever year (because the novices of one year would not be the same the next as it’s a one-year program and then you move on from the novitiate) kept things interesting.

And the Dominican novices would take a new religious name and it was always fun asking those young friars preacher why they took names like “Augustine,” or “Ambrose,” or even, “Benedict.” Always the Dominicans are famous for their white habits and I would enjoy the look on the young novice’s face when some food missed his mouth and landed on his fresh white habit! The brown of us friars minor doesn’t cause much alarm when the same happens to us.

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