Building Bridges and Paving the Way: Dominicans at the Frontiers of Catholic Christianity. Conference report

A historical colloquium named after brother Isnard Wilhelm Frank OP († 13.10.2010), Dominican priest, medievalist and historian of the Order, was held already for the fourth time already in the hospitable atmosphere of the priory of Vienna; for the second time as a cooperation between the priory, the Historical Institute of the Order of Preachers in Rome and the Department of Historical Theology of the University of Vienna. This year’s symposium, which took place from 17 to 19 October 2019, was held under the motto “Building Bridges and Paving the Way: Dominicans at the Frontiers of Catholic Christianity”.

Bro. Thomas Gabriel Brogl, Provincial of the Province of Saint Albert in Southern Germany and Austria, in his greeting, emphasized the relevance of the topic in today’s times “of polarization, of the emphasis on one’s own and of the search for a clear identity”: With reference to the General Chapter of Avila (1986) he recalled the original mission of the Order to go to the frontiers of humanity and to the task of being “bridge builders, so that these frontiers are not places of separation, but opportunities for the formation of community”. Prior Bro. Günter Reitzi referred in his words to the history of the Dominicans in the centre of Vienna: “Since its foundation, the house had stood by the city wall. It was an entrance area for what came into the city. This house has always had a function of building bridges.”

The speakers from various countries succeeded in throwing new light on aspects of Dominican history from the 13th century to the most recent period, some of which were well-known, but also many unknown. They showed examples of successful encounters of the Order and its individual members with the foreign on the intellectual level as well as in pastoral practice and mission, which can serve as a source of inspiration in many ways. It became clear, however, that the history of the Order, with regard to the question of building bridges, is not a pure success story, be it because, for example, church political constellations prevented it or because the methods and strategies chosen by the friars failed. In addition, there is unfortunately no lack of examples of defensive attitudes, where concern for truth led to demarcation and, regrettably, discrimination against others. Professor Thomas Prügl from the Department of Historical Theology, co-organiser of the conference, in his closing remarks also pointed out the possibility that “intended bridges” are built which “do not always lead to a new shore, but occasionally also into emptiness”. Nevertheless, according to Prügl one could speak of optimism and openness towards the other as a Dominican basic trait, which as a rule brought about more success than demarcation and fear.

The prior and all the friars of the Vienna priory deserve heartfelt thanks for their hospitality during the symposium. The conference papers will be published in a volume of the Dissertationes Historicae series of the Historical Institute of the Order of Preachers.


fr. Viliam Štefan Dóci OP


Brückenbauer_Building the Bridges_2019 (conference program)