Nothing but prayer at youth event hosted by Dominican friars

There's an old story in which the great Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about Jesus and the Eucharist. Seeking the Lord's approval, St. Thomas approached the crucifix and asked Him to judge what he had composed.

"You've written well of Me," Christ told him. "What do you seek as your reward?"

"Non nisi te, Domine," St. Thomas responded.

The Latin translation: "nothing but you, Lord."

"Non Nisi Te" is the theme of a new monthly gathering hosted by the Dominican priests and student brothers -- called friars -- at St. Dominic Priory in Midtown St. Louis. They're from two Dominican provinces -- St. Albert the Great, which covers the central United States, and St. Martin de Porres, which is for the southern United States. About two dozen friars study at nearby Aquinas Institute.

"We wanted to offer young people especially an encounter with Christ, and to give them a taste of religious life -- to sing with us and pray with us," Brother Vincent Davila said.

The gatherings began in January and include two hours of singing, prayer and adoration in the chapel, plus confession. One of the brothers also preaches, the signature characteristic of the Dominican charism. The first "Non Nisi Te" drew about two dozen young adults. The most recent, Feb. 21, was a full house with about 70 guests and Dominicans.

"Non Nisi Te" also has created an opportunity for the Dominicans to welcome the public to the priory, which was remodeled in 2011. Part of the Dominican charism is to make their prayer "at the service of the people," Brother Davila said. The priory is open to the public for regular daily prayer and Mass throughout the week.

The priory has a blend of old (the chapel, which is over 100 years old, includes the original stained-glass windows) and modern (thanks to the remodel); so, too, did the evening of prayer, which featured a compilation of modern music (Audrey Assad and Matt Maher) and ancient Latin hymns, ("Salve Regina" and "Ave Verum Corpus").

The mixture of old and new is intentional. "It's reflective of our dualistic life, which includes the contemplative and active apostolate," Rev. Brother Raymond Marie Bryce said. "We attempt to combine all the facets of Christian devotion: adoration, preaching, Liturgy of the Hours, confession."

Leah and Rebekah Sheldon have attended both gatherings with friends from St. Louis University. Though Protestants, the sisters have enjoyed spending time in prayer and song. "It's really lovely," Leah Sheldon said. "I can feel the presence of God."

It was a trip down memory lane for Julia Essner, a junior nursing student at SLU who came with friends from campus. Essner spent several months last year with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich. She later realized it wasn't God's will and came home.

"For me, this was personally sentimental," she said. "I prayed in the same way that I did when I was in the convent. Any time with Jesus is a good time."

Pray with the friars

St. Dominic priory is located at 3407 Lafayette Ave. in Midtown St. Louis. To learn what times prayer and Mass are offered, visit www.preachingfriars.org/visit-friars.

To learn more about "Non Nisi Te," see www.preachingfriars.org/NonNisiTe. The next gathering is from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21. 

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