Br. Raymond: How his time at SJC and UofA shaped his path

28 October 2022

Br. Raymond Maria La Grange, OP is an SJC and UofA alum. He is currently studying for the Catholic priesthood, through the religious order known as the Dominicans, or “OP”, Order of Preachers. St. Joseph’s College interviewed Br. Raymond about his time at SJC and the UofA, and how it shaped his current path. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your story? 

I came from a devout and religious family of 7. I have  a younger brother who is severely autistic, and this deeply marked our family life. For years when he was young he slept poorly, and I was moved by my Father’s generosity in losing so much sleep to take care of him, while also running a business to support his family. My father almost never complained, and this was formative in my understanding of generosity and the gift of self to the world. 

Also, my Mom was a heavy reader. Our house was filled with books. When I was in high school she started giving me books on theology and philosophy. It was during this time that I began to think about the priesthood.  In particular I remember Jacques Martian’s Introduction to Philosophy. His articulation of Thomism left quite an impression on a 16-year-old with an inkling of the priesthood.

Describe your time at SJC? 

While priesthood was a consideration during my high school days, I was very busy at University and the priesthood was a backburner idea. I was pursuing a degree in Chemistry and Physics at the University of Alberta, following in the footsteps of my Father who studied chemistry here. When I needed to take some Arts electives, my sister suggested I take Greek Philosophy and the Christian Tradition, taught by Dr. Kostelecky. I loved the course. It explored the interconnections between the pagan philosophical tradition and Christian thought and asked deep questions that I had never seriously thought through like, what is a soul? I ended up taking 5 St Joseph’s College courses from Dr. Kostelecky over my degree. His specialization in St Thomas Aquinas helped to lay the foundation for my later studies as a Dominican Friar.

During my studies I visited the local seminary, but did not feel drawn to the  life of a diocesan priest. I began to think more about religious life. In my fourth year I came to visit the Dominicans in Washington, DC, where we have our house of studies for the Province of St. Joseph. After graduating, I volunteered for a year in a homeless shelter for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal while completing my application to the Dominicans before entering the novitiate in Cincinnati.

What is your current state of studies? 

I did my Novitiate in Cincinnati, and now I am at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC about to begin my sixth and final year of studies. I made final vows a few months ago, was ordained a Deacon, and am on the way to priestly ordination. I have completed a STB theology (similar to a Bachelor's degree), am working on an STL (a licence in sacred theology) which will include a Masters of Divinity. On the side, I assist at a Spanish speaking parish in DC.

Describe the pillars of Dominican life. Which pillars were most shaped at SJC or prepared you for your vocation? 

The pillars of Dominican life are prayer, study, community, and preaching. My time at the U of A especially helped me to prepare for study and the intellectual life. The University is a serious and rigorous research institution that challenged us all. I was fortunate to be able to take the Science 100 program my first year, which is an intensive, full year, integrated science course. This prepared me well for the dedication to study and the serious intellectual work expected in the Dominican order, but also for the balance between academics and the rest of life. So my adjustment to those elements of life at the Dominican House of Studies was not as difficult as it perhaps could have been.

One factor of St Dominic’s unique contribution to religious life was sending his brothers into the world. As SJC is in the heart of a public University, how was practicing your faith amidst the diversity in a University relevant for your vocation and preparation for religious life. 

Amidst the busy studies in my degree program, SJC provided courses in topics that made me think deeply, with the rigor expected at a research university. In class, I encountered a diverse mix of people and perspectives, and class discussions around topics like the soul, God, and the meaning of life were enriched by this diversity. Frank, open, and diverse discussion about these topics, and especially regarding the contributions of Thomas Aquinas, was important preparation for my work in religious life and with people who are distant from the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Students at UofA and SJC were intelligent, hardworking, and from varying backgrounds and beliefs who wanted to ask critical questions. Engaging very serious people able to ask very pointed questions, from a diversity of views and traditions, was invaluable for my vocation. Therefore, my time at SJC helped me situate my tradition in the broader academic world and helped me understand how the world encountered the tradition. 

What is your favorite current course? 

My favorite course right now is probably Cura Animarum, which means the Care of Souls. It is a pastoral course consisting mostly of practice confessions, but also with further advice on confession and spiritual direction. It is taught by Fr. Gabriel O’Donnell, OP. There are only four of us in the class, which is a really good size for a practical course like that. You learn a lot about yourself in how you react to people’s lives. The class helps you to be both a better person and a better minister to others.

What would you say to young people who have not considered religious life, or have never explored it? 

Someone once lamented that those who enter religious life abandon everything on earth just for a front row seat in heaven. This is only partly true. Religious life is also a front row seat on earth. We set everything aside to focus on what matters most.

This calling can seem daunting or strange, but God has promised us that this life can make ordinary people holy. For those who are called, those who want to give their life to God in a special way, this is where you will be most alive.