Dominican Order of Preachers in Cambridge

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Dominican Order of Preachers in Cambridge

In his series about the Religious Congregations living and working in the Diocese of East Anglia, Fr Karol Porczak MS, Vicar for the Religious, introduces the Dominican – Order of Preachers in Cambridge.

The Order of Preachers (OP) was founded in the early thirteenth century by St Dominic Guzmán (1170-1221) as he sought to preach the fullness of the Catholic faith to people in the south of France, many of whom had been drawn away from the Church through ignorance of her teaching.

The friars of the Order were to be a community of brothers who would witness to the Gospel by their way of life together and by their preaching, informed in turn by the assiduous study of theology. This pattern of life, nourished especially by the community’s liturgical prayer, remains the core of Dominican spirituality and mission to this day.

The Order expanded rapidly after its confirmation by Pope Honorius III in 1216, and in 1221, St Dominic and the General Chapter of the Order sent friars to England. From their first foundation in Oxford the friars spread quickly, with 18 houses opening in the new English province in the first 20 years, including the priory in Cambridge, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which was founded either in or shortly before 1238.

Cambridge was already a growing centre of study and learning, and the university gained recognition from the pope and the king in the early 1230s. The original Dominican priory was on the site of Emmanuel College, and it had its own school of theology integrated into the life of the mediaeval University and the wider Order.

After the Reformation, some of the brothers fled abroad, and so English Dominican life continued overseas awaiting happier days. They returned to England in the eighteenth century, but it would not be until 1938 that Dominican life returned to Cambridge when the recently widowed Enrichetta Bullough offered them St Michael’s, the house which she and her recently deceased husband Edward had built as a family home. Their son became Fr Sebastian Bullough, one of the first friars in the refounded community.

In 1955 the friars bought the neighbouring house, and the two houses were connected by a new wing in 1962. For much of its more recent history, the priory, known like many Dominican houses in England as Blackfriars, has been the home to writers and academics teaching in the university.

The main work of the community today is to house the novitiate of the English Province, welcoming and training young men in their first year as friars and helping them to learn about life in the Order with a view to making a decision about whether to profess vows. Many of the friars are involved in wider apostolates in the University of Cambridge and local parishes, and priests make themselves available for spiritual direction and the Sacrament of Confession, a ministry which has seen a notable and welcome expansion since the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are now nine community members of Blackfriars in Cambridge: Fr Robert Verrill OP (Prior), Fr Euan Marley OP, Fr Albert Robertson OP, Fr Colin Carr OP, Fr Bob Eccles OP, Br Dominik (novice), Fr Gregory Pearson OP, Fr Paul White OP and Br Daniel Benedict Rowlands OP.

Pictured above are (from left to right): Fr Robert (Prior), Fr Euan, Fr Albert, Fr Colin, Fr Bob, Br Dominik (novice), Fr Gregory. Not pictured: Fr Paul and Br Daniel.