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ITALY | For the Love of St. Dominic: A Dominican Diocesan Priest’s Reflection

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

I cannot hide my emotion in reflecting upon the events and revelations that led me to fall in love with St. Dominic and brought me to make profession in June 2021 in the Priestly Fraternities of St. Dominic in the Roman Province of St. Catherine of Siena. I am convinced that in each of these happenings and communications was a caress from the Lord. My journey towards the Dominican Order was unexpected and winding, so I’ll begin my story simply, by introducing myself.

My name is Alessandro Caserio, I am 39 years old and I am currently a diocesan priest serving as parish vicar in the Parish of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore in Tor Bella Monaca, Rome. Having obtained a baccalaureate in theology at the Pontifical Lateran University, I am now completing my studies in liturgy at the Pontifical University of Sant'Anselmo.

I was born and raised in Rome. From an early age, I was able to experience the beauty of faith through the family that the Lord gave me: my mother Anna, my father Carlo and my sister Pierangela. The house where I grew up was always, and still is, a place of concrete encounter with the Lord; without the example of faith and gratuitous love that my parents gave me, perhaps I would never have chosen to consecrate my life to the Lord. I also experienced the beauty of faith in the parish community of San Felice da Cantalice, which is entrusted to the Capuchin Friars Minor in the Centocelle quarter of Rome. There, I received all the sacraments of Catholic initiation, had my first experience of service as an altar boy at the age of nine, and later continued along the path of service, first as an adult minister and then, beginning in 2001, as an acolyte. My ministry as an acolyte was particularly formative because it frequently required me to visit the sick, meet the poor and tend with extreme concreteness to their spiritual and material needs. Doing so led me to discover that service to God's people enriched my life, not only by providing me with something to do for others, but also by shaping me interiorly, by nourishing my compassion. My years in Centocelle were fundamental to my life of faith.

Even so, in subsequent years, I also pursued a life of materiality. I started working both in various shops and public offices while studying architecture at the Sapienza University of Rome, where I earned a baccalaureate in 2009. Afterwards, I worked for a prestigious American company that paid me good money and I became engaged to a girl from my home parish who shared my dreams, projects and journey of faith. It seemed that I had achieved everything: I was happy both professionally and emotionally. But the feeling wavered, and precisely during that period I perceived an ever-growing dissatisfaction. After a long period of spiritual discernment, I understood that the Lord was asking me to follow him in a different way and live a different life from the one I had planned myself; he was calling me to become a diocesan priest. Consequently, in 2012, I began the formative path towards holy orders at the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, located at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome, and on 12 May 2019, Pope Francis ordained me a priest at the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City.

While my story may seem simple, really it was not. When I decided to quit my job as an architect to pursue holy orders, I was full of doubts; I felt not only inadequate to the vocation the Lord was calling me to, but also afraid to leave everything I had built over the long years of study and work. Still, by the grace of God, I found the strength to leap into the dark, and from the first days of seminary, the dark began fading into light and I breathed with peace and serenity that I had never felt before. Day by day, I became more certain that the Lord was indeed calling me to the life of a diocesan priest. Yet, simultaneously, a restlessness was growing inside of me because I saw a great risk in the diocesan life, namely, that of not having a basic spirituality to direct, nourish and support the priestly vocation. When I shared my worries with the educators at the seminary, they explained that the charism of the diocesan priest is that of the Good Shepherd, of being open to all charisms, of being for all the faithful. This response failed to satisfy me, seeming facile and inadequate, so I decided to put into practice the words of the Gospel of Luke: “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. For whoever asks gets, whoever seeks finds, and to whoever knocks it will be opened.” I began to ask the Lord in prayer to indicate to me which "spiritual garment" He thought best for me, and the answer came to me through spiritual direction. The Lord had given to me a wise and cultured spiritual father, who one day said the words I will always remember: “Read Saint Dominic and His Times, by Marie-Humbert Vicaire. It's a demanding book, but you have three months to read it all, no more! Highlight everything that strikes you because it will be the object of our spiritual direction for some time.” To be honest, the suggestion seemed absurd to me for the reason that, until that moment, I was barely aware of the existence of St. Dominic, and, among other things, I had never expressed any interest in the Dominicans or the mendicant orders—despite being from a parish of Franciscan friars! However, out of obedience, I bought the book and started reading. Much to my surprise, a love for St. Dominic began to grow in me as I absorbed its 700 pages.

Among the first striking statements in the book was that St. Dominic “was not driven to study by pure curiosity, nor by an inordinate greed for knowledge, but by the thirst for truth." That spoke to me as a student, and as such I was so unlike St. Dominic! My objective in reading books at seminary had always been to get good grades, not to taste the truth! It caused me great distress to recognize my wrong approach to study, but St. Dominic, through the words of Vicaire, began to relieve it by changing my relationship with study. Later, my intellectual formation was completely transfigured by reading the essay “The Wellspring of Hope: Study and the Annunciation of the Good News,” by Brother Timothy Radcliffe, OP, which revealed study as a necessity that arises from silence, of which it is like a continuation. According to Radcliffe, the