The Foundation of the Pontifical Faculty

Excerpt from an address by Fr. J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., “Discere et Docere: The Identity and Mission of the Dominican House of Studies in the 21st Century,” delivered on the occasion of the dedication of the new Academic Center and Theological Library for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies, April 18, 2009.

The foundation of the Dominican House of Studies (1902-1907)

Not until his second term as provincial was Father Kearney able to execute this plan. The decision to erect a new studium generale in Washington, D.C. was taken on 2 January 1902 and Father Richard Jerome Meaney was placed in charge of the project. Having taken up residence at St. Dominic’s across town, Father Meaney road his Rambler bicycle over here to the (then) Bunker Hill Road building site every morning to supervise the work.

We owe to Father Meaney the existence of a detailed account of the progress of the construction from the development of the initial plans, through the groundbreaking ceremony on 23 April 1903 and the laying of the cornerstone on 16 August of the same year, to the blessing of the new building on 20 August 1905 and, finally, to the dedication of the chapel on 4 February 1907.

At the solemn dedication of the chapel on that Sunday morning, Meaney tells us, James Cardinal Gibbons presided, along with the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Diomede Falconio (auspiciously, it was felt, a Franciscan), while Father Kearney preached the sermon. Kearney was finally able to give voice to his joy at the fulfillment of his cherished dream and his gratitude to the friends of the Dominican Order for their bountiful generosity whom he thanked when he said in conclusion: “…[T]his chapel today dedicated and this building raised to the honor and glory of God, is the monument of the poor whom we have served long, silently and faithfully” (Dominican Year Book 1908, 71).

A festive dinner followed the Solemn Mass and, according to Father Meaney, “the refectory was well filled, everything white and clean, the snowy white habits of the Dominicans contrasting with the brown of the Franciscans and the black of the seculars and purple scattered through it all; and happiness shining in every countenance” (Meaney 1934, 245).

The learning and teaching of philosophy and theology according to Thomistic principles in the Province of St. Joseph was finally established on a solid institutional basis in a true studium generale that could meet all the requirements of Dominican legislation.

As Father Kearney declared in his sermon at the dedication of the chapel: “Here the sons of Dominic will be trained in piety and learning, walking in the spirit of their vocation, going forth to meet the needs of the Church in America as priestly scholars, as faithful religious, as zealous missionaries” (Dominican Year Book 1908, 71).

Moreover, the province had fulfilled the traditional Dominican expectation that a studium generale be located in the vicinity of a major university. Cardinal Gibbons—who had since 1890 urged the Dominicans to establish their studium at the Catholic University of America in Washington—happily presided at all of the founding events of the new Dominican House of Studies. For their part, the friars were delighted that, while maintaining its independence as a studium generale, the Dominican House of Studies would enjoy a wide range of mutually beneficial exchange and collaboration with the Catholic University of America.

In the hundred years since its foundation, the Dominican House of Studies has fulfilled and even surpassed the expectations and the dreams of its founders. It has turned out to be a distinguished center of learning and teaching in the Order and beyond. The intellectual formation received by the friars at the Dominican House of Studies led to such widely diverse initiatives as the foundation of Providence College, the Theology for the Layman movement, and the establishment of Blackfriars Theater (cf. Vidmar 2005 passim.). The parishes and parish missions conducted by the Dominican friars became famous for the quality of preaching and pastoral care that they provided. Dominicans holding distinguished professorships at Catholic University and teaching at Catholic colleges throughout the nation insisted on a high level of theological teaching based Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae as opposed to the more catechetical approach of the so-called kerygmatic theology (cf. Di Noia 2009b). These teachers also contributed to the cultivation of a potent Catholic intellectual culture in the US (cf. Gleason 1987).