The leadership of the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great has announced that the priests at St. Thomas More Newman Center will be reassigned to ministries outside the Jefferson City diocese in 2020.
Dominican Father Joachim Culotta O.P. will move to St. Pius Priory in Chicago on Jan. 13.
Dominican Fathers Richard Litzau O.P. and Michael Ford O.P., who are pastor and associate pastor of the parish, will depart for new assignments yet to be determined on July 1.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight will appoint diocesan priests to succeed them.
“For 14 years, we have been blessed by the ministry of the Order of Preachers — the Dominicans — in our diocese, specifically at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbia,” said Bishop McKnight in a Nov. 17 statement.
“We are grateful for their presence and their service,” he stated. “Please keep the Columbia Newman Center clergy, staff and people in your prayers as they prepare to transition to a new beginning.”
Dominican Father James V. Marchionda, prior provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, said the decision is the result of an intensive planning process the province undertook over the past two years.
He said a key priority that emerged from the process was a clearly expressed desire for larger Dominican communities, “where the friars could engage in a more robust common life while attending to the demands of their ministries.”
“Friar” is Latin for brother, a common term for members of the Dominicans.
Since its founding, the Dominican Community of St. Raymond of Penafort in Columbia has seen fluctuations in its number of priests and religious brothers before reaching its current size of three members.
“To date, we have not been able to grow our ministries in Columbia to achieve this larger community model with the potential for a more robust common life,” Fr. Marchionda said in a statement.
“Although this ministry has been rich and the province wishes to continue serving young adults, we have chosen to do so where cities can accommodate larger communities,” he said.
“It is with true sadness we make the choice to move on to what our planning process has outlined for our future,” he stated.
Dominicans traditionally wear white habits but have been referred to as the “Black Friars” because of the black cappa (cape) they wear on formal occasions.
Fr. Litzau wore his when he announced the Dominicans’ upcoming departure at all Masses in the St. Thomas More Newman Center Chapel on Nov. 17.
“A couple of people said they knew I was serious when they saw it,” he said.
He noted that an important part of being a Dominican is holy obedience to authority.
“I like it here, so I’m sad about it,” he said. “But I take my vow of obedience very seriously.”
He believes the people and the Dominicans who have ministered in Columbia have benefited from each other.
“Since I became pastor in 2014, my goal for the Newman Center has been for us to make it a force to be reckoned with on campus and in the community,” he said. “I think we’ve done that.”
He attributes Newman’s success to the support of a strong staff and of a community that bought into the vision and said, “we want that, too.”
“And hopefully, that won’t ever go away,” he said.
He noted that the Dominicans are formally known as the Order of Preachers for good reason.
He hopes he and the other Dominicans who have ministered in the diocese have helped people grow in their appreciation for fine preaching.
“We also want to leave behind a sense of what community looks like — not only as Dominican brothers but also the community at large,” he said.
Headquartered in Chicago, the Province of St. Albert the Great is one of four Dominican provinces in the United States.
They are part of a worldwide order established by St. Dominic in 1216 to promote preaching the truth in order to combat destructive heresy.
Unlike diocesan priests, whose first commitment is to God through their parishioners and their bishop, the Dominican priests’ first commitment is to God through their order.
Living in communities much like families, Dominicans take an emphatic vow of obedience. From that vow and the rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Dominican Order, flow the associated vows of poverty and chastity.
Dominicans also turn the internal charisms of prayer and contemplation outward toward preaching, teaching and apostolic service.
All Dominican priests, Dominican brothers and sisters, and Dominican laypeople throughout the world make up what is known as the Dominican Family.
Its influential members throughout history have included St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great and St. Catherine of Siena.
“Hundreds of good things”
Fr. Litzau said it’s always a privilege to minister in a parish.
“All I’ve ever wanted to be is a pastor,” he said.
He noted that pastors are sent to parishes to serve as shepherds and stewards.
“Whoever arrives to minister after us is going to put their own stamp on the parish over time,” he told parishioners at Mass. “But the reality is that no matter who comes, it’s still your community. So, continue to be a community that’s focused on Christ and on being of service to others.”
He believes God is fast at work, bringing His plan to fruition in Columbia and throughout the world.
“Because for every bad thing we hear about, there are hundreds of good things going on that are holy and compassionate,” he said.
Fr. Marchionda said the Dominicans are grateful for the trust given to them by Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who welcomed them to the diocese in 2006, and for the ongoing support of Bishop McKnight.
“I must assure you that friars who have served at St. Thomas More Newman Center parish have shared with me their deep affection for its students and parishioners, as well as the Diocese of Jefferson City,” Fr. Marchionda stated.
“We shall miss them all and wish God’s blessings on each of them and the wonderful ministry that is St. Thomas More Newman Center parish,” he continued.
“With prayer and humble gratitude to the people of St. Thomas More and to the diocese, we ask your understanding and prayers at this challenging time of transition for all of us.”
Bishop McKnight asked everyone to join him in thanking Fathers Culotta, Litzau and Ford for their dedication to the Church and to this diocese, “and in praying for an increase in vocations, especially to the ministerial Priesthood, which we desperately need.”
He challenged everyone to recognize the transition as an occasion for recommitment and growth.
“While we will deeply miss the Dominicans, this time can also be seen as an opportunity for us to encourage a deeper co-responsibility for our clergy and laity in ministry with the university community in Columbia,” he stated.