WASHINGTON — “Our Lord commanded us to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest, and we have done so — and these are his answer to our prayer,” Archbishop Augustine Di Noia said Saturday, as he prepared to serve as ordaining prelate for the largest class of Dominican friars ordained for the eastern Province of St. Joseph in 45 years.

This year marks the 800th jubilee for the Order of Preachers, and Archbishop Di Noia, ordained a Dominican priest in 1970, emphasized that this class was “blessed to be the 800th-anniversary ordination class” of the province. The 11 new priests, mostly men in their 20s, were ordained at a May 21 Mass — aired live on EWTN — that filled to capacity the Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is across the street from the Dominican House of Studies and seats 6,000 people.

Sixteen men will be entering the province’s novitiate in Cincinnati on the feast of St. Dominic (Aug. 8). There are currently 69 men in formation. There are four Dominican provinces within the United States. Highlights of the ordination Mass can be seen here.

Archbishop Di Noia, who is adjunct secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, reminded the ordinands that this year the Dominican Order celebrates the day that St. Dominic received from Pope Honorius III the bull of confirmation establishing his Order of Preachers on Dec. 22, 1216.

Archbishop Di Noia also reminded the men that “ours is a clerical order,” and the priesthood is at the heart of the Dominican vocation. As such, they had been undergoing a “twofold” formation: “preparing for the priesthood and learning to be Dominicans.”

“The abundance of divine grace you have received in your Dominican and priestly formation brings you to this wonderful moment,” Archbishop Di Noia said. “Through the priesthood, the Son of God continues to be in our midst in a manner adapted to our human nature by sending his only Son, who in turn commissioned the apostles and their successors, so that we might receive his word and his grace from other human beings.”

“Christ ensured this, by giving to his disciples, and through them to their successors, the power of the priesthood to commemorate in persona Christi, in his person, this very sacrifice of his love and friendship for us — as if we had been present at the Lord’s Supper ourselves,” said Archbishop Di Noia, who is 72.

The nearly three-hour Mass and Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood featured the Election of the Candidates (when the priests-to-be were formally presented to the archbishop, immediately after the Gospel), the Examination, the Promise of Obedience, the Prayer of Ordination, the Investiture With Stole and Chasuble, the Laying on of Hands and the Anointing of the Hands.

Throughout the Mass, there was a sense of both the spiritual and historical significance of the Dominican Order. A quote in the Mass program booklet from Dominican Father Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, who re-established the order in France after the destruction wrought by the French Revolution and considered one of the great preachers of the order, summed up the Dominican vocation as “to live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures” and asks for “a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity.”

The Dominican House of Studies in Washington is known for the quality of its schola cantorum, having produced albums of music — and Saturday’s Mass was no different. The special ordination schola was composed of friars and Dominican sisters from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Nashville, Tenn. The music was impressive, from the entrance of a long procession of priests into the vast Upper Church to the strains of Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum and the recessional O God Beyond All Praising.

After the ordinations, the newly ordained friars stood in various chapels in the enormous basilica, where they gave their first priestly blessings. It was three-quarters of an hour before many of them could find their way to the reception at the House of Studies. The crowd was so large that the friars pitched a giant tent in their softball field behind the House of Studies to accommodate all of the well-wishers.

When the newly ordained priests finally made their way across Michigan Avenue to the House of Studies, they were still being asked for priestly blessings. Friars and brothers knelt before the new priests to receive blessings. “This was probably the most beautiful Mass I have ever attended,” newly ordained Dominican Father Michael Mary Weibley said as the friars gathered at their house.

Father Weibley, 28, graduated from Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, where he studied history and philosophy and was an avid member of the baseball team. He first encountered the Dominican Order through the college chaplaincy and entered the order shortly after he graduated. During the Mass, he “prayed for the grace of St. Dominic to be a good priest.”

Newly ordained Dominican Father Louis Bertrand Mary Lemoine, 28, who grew up in Bunkie, La., and studied in Columbus, Ohio, talked about the “joy” he has found among his Dominican brothers and said that he is “committed to the Gospel for the salvation of souls.”

Dominican Father Dominic Mary Verner, 29, said that he thought during the Mass about St. Dominic and about a relative of his, Father William Thomas Willet, who was ordained a Dominican priest in 1816, 200 years ago to the day from Father Verner’s ordination. A graduate of Purdue University in Indiana, Father Verner began to discern a vocation while he was still an undergraduate. He finished his graduate studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in philosophy, before responding to a call to be a Dominican. He said it was a “great blessing” to be ordained in the jubilee year and on the anniversary of Father Willett’s ordination.  

Dominican Father Clement Dickie, 32, graduated from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where he obtained bachelor of science degree in economics. He spent three years as an economist for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Philadelphia.

Asked about his call to the priesthood, the newly ordained friar said with a laugh, “When I was in college, I went to Eucharistic adoration at 2am on Saturday every week, and that does have a way of giving the Lord the opportunity to speak to you.” He entered the novitiate in 2009.

Dominican Father John Sica, 27, is a native of Long Island, N.Y., who attended the order’s Providence College in Rhode Island. Father Sica was asked why he thinks that the Dominicans are doing so well in gaining vocations.

“The Dominican vocation answers to a need we have in the Church today: to know and love the truth,” the new priest said. At Providence College, Father Sica, who will serve as a hospital chaplain this summer, said the friars “gave me an example of prayer in common, love for the Eucharist and love for the sacred truth.”

Dominican Father Benedict Croell, vocation director at the House of Studies, who was celebrating the 18th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Saturday, said something similar about the order’s plentiful vocations. He attributed it to a series of things: “We have an intellectual rigor and the ability to engage the culture with a strong foundation in the teachings of our ‘all-star’ and common doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. To have this big of an ordination class in our 800th anniversary year is a tremendous jubilee grace.”

Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.

Photos provided by the Province of St. Joseph; Photographed by Jaclyn Lippelman