The Priory of Saint Albert the Great, the Western Dominican Province’s House of Studies, has a history unlike any other.
The Priory sits on what was once known as Rose Lawn Park. In the early 1900s the estate was purchased by Raymond and Winifred Perry, who later built Brookhurst Mansion. Eventually the property passed on to their daughter, who sold it to Eva de Sabla (acting on behalf of the Province) for $65,000 in 1931.
That same year, permission was granted to establish a priory on the grounds under the patronage of Saint Albert the Great, the well-known Dominican, patron of the sciences and mentor of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Quickly realizing that more space would be needed for the growing number of brothers in studies and initial formation, the Province approached renowned architect Arnold Constable.
Construction began on the east wing in 1934, and six years later, workers broke ground for the chapel. A mere five months later, in early May of 1941, the community gathered for the consecration of the chapel by Archbishop John Joseph Mitty of San Francisco.
Consecration is the act by which an object is set apart for sacred use, or by which a person is dedicated to the service and worship of God. Although very similar to a blessing, the Church actually makes a distinction between the two. In both cases, the persons or things become the subjects or instruments of a sacred purpose. But while a blessing customarily calls for holy water, although not always necessary, consecration requires the use of holy oils.
The consecration of a church is a rite reserved to a bishop. The essential element of the ceremony is the anointing of twelve crosses on the inner walls with holy chrism, under which a candle is affixed. These candles are lit each year on the anniversary of the consecration, a solemn reminder that the church has been dedicated to the worship of God. Since the building has been raised to a higher order, it is no longer to be used for common purposes.
Much like a building can be set apart for sacred use, so too can numerous objects and aspects of our lives. Typically referred to as sacramentals, these sacred signs “do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (CCC, 1670). Because faith in things we cannot see or touch can often be strengthened by the things we can: rosaries, candles, medals, scapulars and crucifixes — all of these items can be blessed by a priest for daily use in one’s prayer and worship of God.
Just as the cornerstone of a building sets the foundation for everything to come, praying a rosary on one’s way to work lays the groundwork for our coming together on Sunday to worship God in our local church. This is how we draw closer to Christ, who is the foundation from which we build a life of faith and purpose.