Francis & Dominic: Proclaiming a Lesson of Love to the World
By Paul and Christiana Gondreau
Some readers might recall how the newly elected Pope Francis embraced an eight- year-old boy with cerebral palsy during his tour of Saint Peter’s Square after Easter Sunday Mass in 2013. That boy was our son, Dominic. The encounter was a blessing to us in many ways, not least of which because the embrace of a modern Francis with a modern Dominic calls to mind the legendary embrace that Saint Francis and Saint Dominic are said to have enjoyed, and which we see depicted so often in Dominican and Franciscan iconography. Our son, you see, was very deliberately named after the thirteenth- century founder of the Order of Preachers.
The Dominicans have been an intimate and integral part of our lives since our wedding, where a Dominican preached the homily. Indeed, ever since Paul was introduced to the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas as an undergraduate, his life and career have been inextricably linked with the apostolic ministry and charism of the Dominican Friars. After receiving his doctorate following a nine-year graduate formation in theology under the Dominican Friars at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, Paul took a teaching position at Providence College in Rhode Island, which is run by the Dominicans. As a tribute to our having been in the Dominican “family” since the beginning of our relationship, we named our second son Dominic (with Aquinas as his middle name, no less).
Dominic was born under trying circumstances. In the early morning hours of Father’s Day, 2004, he was rushed into the world through a “crash” caesarean section at 25 weeks (three-and-a-half months premature,) as a consequence of a full placental abruption. Given Dominic’s fragile condition on the night of his birth, Paul called a close Dominican friend of ours and colleague of his at Providence College, Father Paul Keller, and asked him to come to the hospital at once in order to baptize little Dominic. Father Keller came immediately— at 2:30 in the morning—and not only baptized Dominic but, reminiscent of the time Saint Dominic stayed up through the night conversing with an Albigensian, spent the early hours of that Sunday morning sitting with Paul in friendly conversation and accompanying him as the reality of this life-changing moment began to settle in.
Neither Father Keller nor we knew what the future would hold for us and for Dominic. It was, in fact, impossible to know Dominic had cerebral palsy–this only became evident months later. But as his disability manifested itself, one thing became abundantly clear: Dominic was (and still is) a blessing sent by God in order to instruct us in life’s greatest lesson–the need to love and be loved. Little did we know that Dominic would give that lesson to the world on Easter Sunday, 2013. If the world was moved by an elderly man embracing a young disabled boy, it is because–at bottom–it was a simple act of love. As divine Providence would have it, our small son was living up to his Dominican namesake by proclaiming a lesson of love to the entire world.