The history and spirituality of the lay Dominicans in South Africa from 1926-1994.
The lay Dominicans in South Africa, originally known as the Third Order of the St. Dominic, consist of lay associates of the Friars of the Order of Preachers (or the Dominican Order). St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers in 1216. From the Order's earliest foundation, lay people were associated with its life and preaching mission. Originally known as the Order of Penance, it emerged out of the thirteenth century reform movement of church and society known as the vita apostolica. One of the most prominent of these was St. Catherine of Siena. Many women were inspired to follow her example. Later a rule was developed for the Third Order, also known as tertiaries. The tertiaries were first introduced into South Africa in 1888 by the Dominican sisters of Kingwilliamstown who accepted some women as candidates for the congregation of sisters. Later when the Dominican friars arrived in the country in 1917, Fr. Laurence Shapcote who started the first Dominican mission in Boksburg, accepted tertiaries. The first chapters were established in Boksburg, Louis Bertrand mission near Potchefstroom and Stellenbosch. The tertiaries were primarily a pious or devotional society of associate priests, solitary members (lone tertiaries) and chapter members. They emphasised the importance of the spiritual life, understood at the time, as attaining Christian perfection. From their origins in South Africa, the tertiaries included both men and women from the various racial and economic strata of apartheid society. The tertiaries grew and developed rapidly from 1940 to 1960. They had a wide appeal because of the resurgence of contemplation and the monastic life during this period. In some parishes, particularly African ones, the Dominican friars were training tertiaries as lay ministers. In this way the tertiaries anticipated the changes that took place during the Second Vatican Council and the greater role given to the laity in the church. During the 1960s, the first signs of a decline in interest in the tertiaries becomes apparent. Initially, the tertiaries responded well to the challenges of Vatican II but membership of the chapters declined considerably during 1970s and 1980s. The social conditions within church and society began to change. The changes allowed by Vatican II gave laity greater responsibility within the church as catechists, communion ministers, members of the parish council and deacons. This caused a crisis of identity for the lay Dominicans after the Council. By the early 1980s many groups had collapsed as fewer laity joined the lay Dominicans preferring to involve themselves in parish ministries than join a chapter. The lay Dominicans remained primarily a pious society. Some of the tertiaries involved themselves in lay ministries. In African parishes, lay Dominicans like Nicholas Lekoane, Joel Moja, Sixtus Msomi in Kwa Thema and Thomas Moeketsi in Heilbron rose to prominence as lay ministers. It was particularly in Kwa Thema that some innovative contributions were made in parish apostolates with the establishment of the parish ward system. However, the intensification of the struggle against apartheid highlighted the need for a more prophetic spirituality which encouraged people to involve themselves in social change. As an organisation the lay Dominicans were never involved in anti-apartheid work with the exception of a few of individuals - Advocate Herbert Vierya, and Jimmy and Joan Stewart, Major Mehan, Barbara Versfeld and Fr. S'mangsliso Mkhatshwa. Consequently, the lay Dominicans were considered, even by the Dominican friars, as increasingly irrelevant and neglected them in their ministerial outreach. By 1984 the Lay Dominicans were still in existence but even the National Promoter, Douglas Wiseman, called for the disestablishment of the lay Dominican groups in their present form. This never happened. During the 1980s, there were some creative attempts to revive and renew the lay Dominicans. The Dominican Family group was started in Cape Town that sought to bring together all the different members of the Dominican family: friars, sisters and laity. Another group was also established with a specific focus and mission as teachers in Dominican schools in Cape Town. This group developed into the Blessed Jordan of Saxony chapter. Even though the number of lay Dominican chapters declined, nevertheless, the organisation did not collapse. The lay Dominicans battled to come to grips with the challenges of a church that allowed greater participation of the laity in parish life. It was unable to transform its spirituality to allow for this shift in ecclesial life. Neither did it take up the challenges of involvement in issues of justice and peace. Young people did not find involvement in the organisation attractive and so membership continued to dwindle. The question remains whether the lay Dominicans can provide a genuine lay spirituality according to the mind of Vatican II?
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