Dominicans, faithful say goodbye to priory
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:32PM
With prayers, a homily and a sacred hymn, the Dominican friars bid a fond farewell Sunday to their cherished chapel inside the old Priory campus in River Forest.
The Dominican friars of the St. Albert the Great Province have called the St. Thomas Aquinas Priory — once known as the House of Studies — their home since 1925. Ten years ago, they sold what once remained of the sprawling green campus to Dominican University.
But the long goodbye continued as the friars rented residential and office space and celebrated weekly Masses in the chapel.
But with the transfer of all theological studies to their large campus in St. Louis, that last vestige had no future.
The chapel was a reminder of a time the stone sprawling two-story building, set among quiet greenery several hundred feet from the bustle of Harlem Avenue, was the center of Dominican studies.
It is a past that means much to many Roman Catholics, and more than 150 people attended a final Mass there June 10.
“It is difficult to overstate the affection with which the friars hold this chapel,” said the Rev. Charles E. Bouchard, who celebrated the Mass. The space, he said, “was always made holy by the people who inhabited it and prayed.”
The Rev. Thomas A.F. O’Meara, who gave the homily, called Sunday’s event both sad and happy. The Dominican perception of faith, he said, recalls the past and looks to the future.
Referring to the building’s history as a place of theological study, O’Meara spoke proudly of the Dominican priest who was at the intellectual heart of the reforms instituted by the Second Vatican Council, which started 50 years ago this fall. That historic gathering transformed and modernized the Catholic Church.
“It was a French Dominican, Cardinal and theologian Yves Marie Joseph Congar, who was the single most important individual at Vatican II,” O’Meara said. “He changed the church. One person, one idea can change the world, can change the future.”
O’Meara said Dominicans welcome the future, and are now simply going through the latest transition, one to be embraced.
“We welcome what is new, what is changing,” O’Meara said. “The future will bring good things.”
After the faithful had offered one last “peace be with you” to their fellow churchgoers, and had taken the sacrament of Communion one last time, Bouchard stepped forward and offered “a gift.”
He asked all 30 or so Dominican brothers and sisters in the chapel to stand, and join him in singing “Salve Regina.”
The oldest tradition of the order, dating back to its beginnings in the 13th century, it is a testament to the Dominican order’s love for the Virgin Mary.
“This particular hymn has been sung innumerable times in this chapel over the past 80 years,” Bouchard said. “I’d like to invite all the Dominicans to stand and join me in singing the ‘Salve’ one last time here, in this particular setting.”
As the rolling tones of the hymn echoed gently off the narrow chapel’s tall stone walls, many people sat with their eyes closed. Several appeared to cry. No one moved.
When the hymn concluded three minutes later, there was a moment of silence before many among the worshippers applauded. One man stood up as he clapped.
And then it was over.
“Our celebration is concluded. Go in peace,” Bouchard said.
The friars formed into a procession line, led by one holding the crucifix aloft, and walked slowly out of the chapel as a processional played and worshippers sang.
As the hymn continued, Bouchard stepped back into the chapel, smiling as he looked around, singing along.
For all of the acceptance of change expressed by the friars, for many worshippers, Sunday was simply a sad day.
“Sad, very sad,” said Jim Flanagan, who lives nearby and has been attending Mass at the priory since 1975.
“This is the end of a way of life,” he said. “I grew up with these priests.”
The Rev. Andrew Wisdom, who runs recruiting for the Dominican order in the Chicago region, echoed Flanagan’s words.
“Sad,” he said. “I had my solemn vows here.”
“It was home to so many of our elderly brothers,” Wisdom said. “They were the students here in their early 20s.”
Wisdom said the sense of loss that lay people were feeling “says to me that they (perceived) the intangibles.”
“It’s not about a building,” he said. “It’s about the life inside this building.”
He offered thanks to those who helped support the priory through the decades.
“We feel they’ve always been here for us,” Wisdom said.
One of those people was Gail Reedy’s mother, Patricia Galvin Reedy.
Gail Reedy grew up in what was once the only house on the old priory property, north on Greenfield Street. The chapel was dedicated to the memory of her mother in 1982, honoring her fervent support of the Dominicans.
Reedy said the priory and the Dominicans will remain with her always.
“This will always be home for me,” she said.