Religious life is a special call in the Catholic Church, one that drew two graduates of Vanderbilt University to the Dominicans.
Those called to a religious order “experience a more intimate consecration in his Baptism, totally giving his life over to God as he tries to grow more perfect in charity,” said Dominican Brother Thaddeus Maria Pistrang.
The participants of the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation Pro-Life and Human Dignity Pilgrimage got a glimpse of life in a religious order when they visited the Dominican House of Studies and met with the Dominican friars of the Province of St. Joseph, Thursday, Jan. 20, in Washington, D.C.
Brother Thaddeus Maria, born Christopher Pistrang, and Dominican Brother Pachomius Walker, born Micah Walker, are two such men who felt that call to religious life while still young men in the Diocese of Nashville.
The initial call
Brother Thaddeus Maria initially grew up in the Diocese of Knoxville, but it was during his time as a student at Vanderbilt University from 2016-2020, participating in University Catholic and spending time as a missionary for the Totus Tuus summer program in the Nashville Diocese, that he became more in touch with his faith and felt the call for the first time.
“Before my time at Vanderbilt, I was very lukewarm in my faith and had never considered a vocation to the priesthood. I had always simply assumed that my vocation would be to the married life,” Brother Thaddeus Maria said. “But during my freshman year in Nashville, I began, truly for the first time in my life, a daily life of prayer, thanks to seeing the lived example of faith in my fellow students and Father (Michael) Fye,” he said of the former chaplain of University Catholic who is now pastor of St. Ann Church.
“Naturally, it was in the midst of a consistent prayer life that I found where God was calling me. During a silent retreat during a summer as a Totus Tuus missionary at the Dominican Sisters’ Bethany Retreat House, I found myself considering a priestly vocation for the first time,” he continued. “Thus, before my junior year, I spoke to Father Austin Gilstrap, the Diocese of Nashville vocations director, about entering seminary. Based on the progress of my degree at Vanderbilt, he gave me the prudent advice to complete my remaining two years but to continue to pray about my vocation.”
Brother Pachomius grew up as a Protestant in Sumner County, but he said he began examining his childhood faith more deeply wanting to understand the “why” of it all when he attended Vanderbilt University.
“I was struck by Christ’s prayer for unity in the Gospel of John (17:22), when Christ said, ‘The glory which you have given me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as we are one,’” Brother Pachomius explained. “I didn’t see that unity in the church I grew up in.”
As he met more and more Catholics and began visiting different churches, he continued to learn more and more about the Catholic faith and the emphasis on Scripture and Tradition. “I couldn’t get enough” of learning about the Catholic faith, he said.
Ultimately, it eventually led to him joining the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program.
Brother Pachomius was received into the Church by Bishop David Choby at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in 2010. Then, after a brief time working, he attended the seminary for the Diocese of Nashville from 2013-2016, before deciding to enter formation with the Dominicans.
The religious life
Brother Thaddeus Maria was introduced to the religious life and the Dominican province during his continued discernment period after speaking with Father Gilstrap. Specifically, it was in his frequent visits to the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville.
“Growing up, I hardly knew that religious life even existed. Thus, initially, when I began to consider the priesthood, I thought that I was drawn to the diocese,” Brother Thaddeus Maria said. The Dominican Sisters “brought me to more deeply revere St. Dominic, the Dominican Order, and her traditions.
“Those who enter religious life live a life vowed to God by the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience and answer more intensely Jesus’ call to the rich young man (in Matthew 19:16-22),” he added.
Brother Pachomius said his exposure to the religious life happened while in the diocesan seminary, when he began to learn more about the rich theological tradition of the Church, the beauty of religious life, and the unique way in which religious vows deepen the consecration received in Baptism, he said. “The more I learned about religious life … the more I desired to join.”
The Dominican Life
Of all the religious orders in the Church, from the Augustinians to the Vincentians, Brother Thaddeus Maria and Brother Pachomius both chose the Dominicans.
The Dominican Order was founded by Spanish priest St. Dominic de Guzman in France in 1216.
“Dominic constructed a religious order international in scope yet decentralized in structure to address the needs of the Church by preparing preachers both intellectually informed and pastorally competent,” according to the Dominican House of Studies website. “This evangelizing mission is asserted in the basic claim of the Fundamental Constitution of the Order of Preachers that the Order was instituted ‘especially for preaching and the salvation of souls.’”
“I grew to love the saints of the Dominican Order like St. Dominic himself, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Margaret of Hungary, St. Pius V, St. Rose of Lima and so many others, and saw that the life that led them to their heavenly reward was still being lived by the friars, nuns and sisters of the Dominican order today,” said Brother Thaddeus Maria, who entered the novitiate in 2020 before making his first simple profession of vows in August 2021 and moving to the Dominican House of Studies to begin his priestly formation. “I am a Dominican friar now because I firmly believe that this life under religious vows in community is the life that will get me, and hopefully many others, to heaven.”
Key to life as a Dominican is living in community with fellow Dominicans.
“In addition to the great theological truths of religious life, on a practical level, it is markedly different for the fraternal life of the Order, that we live the common life,” added Brother Thaddeus Maria. “The Dominican friar does not live his life of vows alone. He prays, studies, works, eats, and preaches amidst his brothers. And Dominicans in particular, still following the mission for which we were founded in 1216, live a life devoted to sacred truth and have a special emphasis in our studies so that we can continue to preach for the salvation of souls.”
Brother Pachomius, who will be ordained as a priest on May 21, 2022, said the Dominicans are meant to live in imitation of the Apostles.
“St. Dominic is known as an Apostolic Man, that is, one who followed the life of the Apostles. Dominicans, therefore, in imitation of their founder, live a life inspired by that of the Apostles: to labor until Christ be formed in those who hear the Gospel,” Brother Pachomius said. “In so doing, the Dominican allows God to use him as an instrument for the salvation of souls, to be spent for the sake of the Gospel. It’s exhilarating to witness God’s grace at work in the lives of his faithful.”
‘The immense beauty’
“More than anything, I want people to know about the immense beauty of religious consecration,” said Brother Thaddeus Maria. “Every single day since St. Dominic founded the Order more than 800 years ago, there have been Dominican friars and Dominican nuns and Dominican sisters chanting the psalms, praying at the Mass, and living out a beautiful tradition that has produced saints over all the centuries.
“This continues today,” he added. “We live a life that is poor, chaste and obedient; a life that contradicts what the world says is enjoyable, but it is here where we have all found true happiness in Christ our Lord.”
For more information about the Dominican Order, visit opeast.org.