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The Vicariate of Dacia

Friday, January 13, 2012
As the Dominican Vicariate of Dacia had their annual meeting recently, I would like to present this group of friars to the readers of Godzdogz. Being a Norwegian brother, I come from a region which the French call 'Le Grand Nord', and apart from believing that it is a cold place and far from everywhere, they often do not know much about this part of Europe at all. One exception would be the French Dominicans, who embarked on a courageous initiative in the Nordic countries during the last century, in an effort to re-establish the order. I would now like to take you through the main historical lines of the presence of Dominican brothers in the region, before briefly describing our situation today and our future hopes.

First of all, we need to mention that the Dominican order was present in all the Nordic countries in medieval times. This is why we talk of the 're-establishment' of the order. This is more than an historical fact; it also has to do with identity and our old Catholic roots in a country marked by five hundred years of Protestantism. Being Catholic and Dominican in this region is - in a certain way - to be back on our old ground, and an important stimulus to our mission in these countries today.

As the Lutheran countries in the North slowly opened the borders to the Catholic Church in the 19th century, small dioceses were established in all the Nordic countries. In the beginning of the 20th century, the French Dominican brothers established the first house in modern times in Oslo, Norway. They bought a villa in 1920, and already in 1927 they had managed to build a beautiful church in Roman neoclassical style. In the sixties and seventies, the old house was replaced by a proper priory in functionalist style.

The priory St Dominikus in Oslo:

After the Second World War, houses were established in the other Nordic countries; Lund in Sweden in 1947, Helsinki in Finland in 1949 and Denmark in the beginning of the fifties. The only Nordic country which was not blessed with a Dominican presence was Iceland, but at the time (1950) the Catholic Church there only counted 450 members...

Since this re-establishment in the 20th century, the different priories have had various luck of surviving. Today, the Vicariate of Dacia counts 14 brothers, and we are represented in Oslo, Lund and Helsinki. We also have two brothers under formation, in Oxford and Toulouse. In Denmark, one secular priest has become a member of the recently started French Dominican Priestly Fraternity, and with his devotion to the order and through his winning charisma, there is hope that the order may one day re-settle there also.

The vicariate met this year in Vilnius, Lithuania, where we also got to strengthen the friendship with our Lithuanian brothers. We stayed in a newly built seminary just outside of Vilnius, where we enjoyed Lithuanian food and hospitality. The theme for this year’s meeting was the presence of the Dominican order around the Baltic Sea in the past, today and in the future.

One might think that being so few in numbers would feel a little depressing. We then have to remember that the Catholic Church in most of the Nordic region is marked by an optimistic spirit and is steadily growing. It is also worth mentioning that the Second Vatican Council has had a positive impact by strengthening the ecumenical dialogue between the different church societies. When it comes to apostolic activities, we find that many doors are being opened, both within and outside the Catholic Church. Being ‘monk’ in a secularised society does draw much attention to people. The alternative lifestyle that a Dominican priory represents with its rhythm of prayer, preaching and study, within the fellowship of a brotherhood, is a witness and a sign that we ourselves are sometimes ignorant of. After all, it is our daily life. But for souls searching for faith with sacramental content and a coherent doctrine, the Church and the Dominicans represent new, challenging perspectives that often give a boost to people’s faith: either they deepen their faith within their own confessional setting or begin a process of conversion towards the Catholic Church. To experience how the Gospel is transforming people’s lives is encouraging and gives hope for the future.

But there are also challenges, and one of the main ones is the need of vocations. A secularised Lutheran society does not engender many vocations to religious life. Throughout the decades, the French province has always sustained the vicariate of Dacia with brothers, and today one third of the brothers in the vicariate are French. Still, we do hope for more brothers in order to strengthen the priories in our region. Jesus says: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few’ (Luke 10:2). It is as true today as ever. So I will end this presentation with a request for prayer for vocations for the vicariate of Dacia and for the faith of the people in the Nordic Countries. And hopefully one day, we will need to extend our priories, in which case I propose that we start with the priory of Oslo, since the plans have already been drawn up, as you can see here below...

Bror Haavar Simon Nilsen OP


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