May 15, 2020
Sean Tobin ’20 overjoyed to answer Dominican Order’s call
By Charles C. Joyce
Divine Providence was calling Sean Tobin ’20 to religious life for years before he got to Providence College. Once he picked up the call at PC, he never hung up.
The classics and history double major from Trumbull, Conn., will enter the novitiate of the Dominican Order’s Eastern Province of St. Joseph to begin preparation and studies for the priesthood on July 22. His vocational decision is hardly shocking to his family, friends and parishioners back home, and his circle of friends — many of them Dominicans — at PC.
Tobin and his sister, Caitlin, grew up in a “great” atmosphere of good values and strong Catholic roots fostered by their parents, Paula and Brian. It was “a loving and joy-filled childhood” in which the siblings “learned the power and truths of the sacraments and the faith,” he said.
He attended Catholic schools through high school. From time to time, people, including his pastor at St. Mary’s in Greenwich, would point out his personal qualities that made them think he might become a priest one day.
After graduating from Regis High School, it was only natural for Tobin to immerse himself in PC’s Catholic ethos. Mass and participation in Campus Ministry service were priorities. He joined the College’s Knights of Columbus council his first year and served as its grand knight the past two years. He was a member of PC for Life, a pro-life ministry; sang with the Schola Cantorum choir at 11 a.m. Sunday Mass for four years,, and was an altar server.
Tobin worked in the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas on campus as a junior and senior. He answered phone calls, drove the older friars to doctors’ appointments, picked up their prescriptions, and often joined them for lunch in the priory dining room.
It was during his sophomore year, when his interaction with the Dominican community became more extensive, that “formative moments” began occurring more regularly. His association with Rev. Michael Weibley, O.P., associate College chaplain, developed as a result of his involvement in Campus Ministry, and he began praying the daily Office in the priory chapel with the Dominicans more frequently. Some of the Dominicans he prayed with were professors he had during his four years.
“I got the sense that perhaps God was leading me,” he said.
Tobin would talk with Father Michael about Catholicism and began to express interest in the Dominican life.
“I told him, ‘You have what it takes to be a Dominican,’” said Father Michael. “I would tell him I could see him as a Dominican and would advise him to ask God to help him see that he was worthy of the priesthood. I didn’t push it upon him.”
The Dominicans’ presence in his life at PC caused him to learn more about their leader, St. Dominic de Guzman, see Dominic’s influence in their lives, and more seriously consider a vocation in the Order, said Tobin.
“Ultimately, it was the example of the friars on campus day in and day out,” he said. “When I read the biography of St. Dominic for the first time, I could see what they do and how they lead every day.”
He added, “They have shown me the way St. Dominic forged 800 years ago — a life completely dedicated to Christ and preaching the truth of the Gospel. A life of holiness and fraternity and spreading to every dark corner of the world the joy that comes with living the Christian life.”
In the course of drawing closer to the Dominican community and way of life, Tobin was building a small network of like-minded friends primarily through their Campus Ministry involvement. Those associations were an integral component in his reflecting on a vocation with the Dominicans.
Two of his friends were Tobin’s roommates the previous three years and have since entered the Order: Daniel Arteaga ’19, now Brother Raphael Mary Arteaga, who is in his novitiate year, and Nathaniel Thomas ’18, now Brother Nicodemus Thomas, O.P., who is finishing his second year with the Order. Tobin said they were outstanding role models and pushed him “to become a better Catholic and a better man.”
Brother Raphael Mary recalled meeting Tobin through a mutual friend, John “Jack” O’Reilly ’19. Their friendship developed quickly in part because they had similar values and ideals in their faith lives and other areas.
That they were roommates and shared similar views “were merely foundations for a fraternity that challenged and encouraged both of us towards those things that truly matter: faith, hope, and charity. This naturally led to conversations, musings, and discussions about the many matters associated with the virtuous life, vocation, and the attainment of happiness,” said Brother Raphael Mary.
The friends, including Brother Nicodemus, felt at ease discussing “the ways in which we understood the grace of God calling us towards the priestly and religious life,” Brother Raphael Mary added.
Brother Raphael Mary was quick to point out, however, that the consideration of vocations is not “discovered in a vacuum” and that prayer, awareness of grace in one’s life, and social interactions all were central factors for the friends.
“Vocations are unveiled through the ordinary, whether that be late nights in the apartment common room, trips to Newport, Dunkin’ after Mass on Sunday mornings, or a Thursday night beer in McPhail’s with Father Michael Weibley, after altar serving for adoration and Mass in St. Dominic Chapel,” he said.
Much like his friends preparing for the Dominican priesthood, Tobin exhibits a trait closely associated with the Order: passion for the intellectual life. He said from the time he was a young boy he liked school and learning, loved to memorize, and was drawn to history and Latin. He’s taken Latin for eight years and has read and studied classical literature and poetry for years, from Aristotle and Virgil to Saint Augustine and pagan philosophers.
“I see the impact reading classics has had on me. My love of learning turned my aptitude into a love of classics,” said Tobin.
Dr. John M. Lawless, assistant professor of history and classics, recalled that Tobin took Introduction to Historical Methodology, Classical Rhetoric, and even Elementary Sanskrit with him. While classics majors are typically “hardworking, reliable, and cheerful about learning,” Tobin distinguished himself with his maturity, he said.
“It was clear from the start that Sean was an independent thinker and wanted guidance, not just instruction. He expressed his conservative viewpoint brilliantly in speeches he made for the rhetoric course. At the same time he is inquisitive about things he cannot possibly have encountered before — like Sanskrit grammar,” said Lawless, who also was his adviser for his senior thesis on Flavius Josephus, a Jewish priest, scholar, and historian.
Tobin did extensive research on Josephus last summer in Jerusalem when he was awarded a Father Philip A. Smith, O.P. Fellowship for Student Service and Study Abroad. He had taken a pilgrimage to the Holy Land the year before and wanted to return. The fellowship allowed him to study and pray alongside Dominicans at École Biblique, a scripture school run by French Dominicans. The experience was a spiritual turning point, too, he emphasized.
“It was a fantastic place to pray and reflect on what God was leading me to,” he said.
It was at École Biblique on the feast of St. Dominic, Aug. 8, where he felt reassurance that he was being called to Dominican life. Tobin prayed a novena to St. Dominic leading up to the feast day. That day, after Mass and after the other Friars had filed out, he prayed the final day of the novena at a side altar.
Upon finishing, he felt “a flood of peace and reassurance wash over me, confident of Holy Father Dominic’s paternal protection and guidance.”
In the fall, he submitted his application to the Province of St. Joseph’s vocations director.
Tobin said that when he entered PC, he felt considering a vocation might happen “down the line,” but not this soon.
“But I had no real concept of one important thing, something that only four years at PC can really imprint on your soul: Divine Providence,” he said. “Since it’s the name of the college, Providence is always before you, always beckoning you to see your life from God’s vantage. I have had my entire senior year to reflect on the thousand ways in which the Lord has called me to apply to the Order, and in retrospect, it paints a beautiful portrait of His grace at work in my life.”
His mind is one of “joyful impatience” as he tries to enjoy what he expects will be the last few months of his secular life. He will relax and spend time with family and friends until then.
“I expect it to be a real joy to go to the novitiate and begin life as a Dominican. That’s the zeal that every friar has,” said Tobin. “I loved PC, and I am extremely thankful for what the Dominicans have done and taught me. I love the thought of returning to PC one day.
“I pray for the grace to accept whatever is next and where the Lord takes me.”
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