Mission and Tradition
The History of DSPT
In formalizing their efforts to open a new house of studies (seminary) near the University of California, Berkeley, the Dominican friars had written to Rome for permission and requested Albert the Great as the patron.
The reason for this request was in anticipation of the naming of Albert the Great by Pope Pius XI as saint and doctor of the Church (on 15 Dec 1931). On 29 Oct 1931, Rome granted that permission and so began the College of St. Albert the Great. Incorporated as such in the State of California, the College of St. Albert the Great continues today under its more “common” title of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. Though the name has changed, the desire for patronage remains strong. As a philosopher and scientist in his own right, Albert reminds us at DSPT to leave “no stone unturned” in our pursuit of truth, and our conversation with the contemporary culture.
Francis Vilarrasa, OP journeyed from Spain to California in 1851.
In 1851, Francis S. Vilarrasa, OP traveled with six novices from Spain to Monterey, California and there established a small community to prepare these young men for the priesthood. Three years later, he moved the formation community to Benicia where it remained until 1931, when Martin Gillet, OP, Master of the Order, requested the friars of the Western Dominican Province follow the Dominican practice of locating a center of studies near a major university. One year later, the Province purchased a five-acre plot located approximately two miles south of the University of California at Berkeley campus and opened the College of St. Albert the Great. As noted in documentation from that era, the College would train not only friars but also lay students for philosophical study, so that “they may be intellectually fitted to cope with the problems of the modern age.”
In 1964, St. Albert College became the first Roman Catholic institution to join the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), a consortium of nine seminaries and various affiliates from other religious traditions. The specific intent of the friars was to establish an advanced post-doctoral research center. As was noted at that time, "The need for a center to pursue this end has been strongly felt by the Dominican Fathers of the western U.S. They are trained in an ancient philosophical and theological tradition, which they must make relevant to contemporary thought. This can be done only by continuing research and study on an advanced level in contact with the current scholarly scene." And so it was that the "Institute of Thomistic and Ecumenical Studies" was formally opened on October 12, 1966. Nicknamed "the Berkeley Priory," the Institute helped to pave the way for further collaboration between the College and the GTU.
In 1976, the administrative offices and classrooms were completely moved from St. Albert Priory to GTU. Two years later, the name of the School was changed to the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (DSPT).
After years of renting classroom and administrative space, the Western Dominican Province purchased a new home for its School at the corner of Arch and Vine Streets. The former worship space for Congregation Beth El, the two-building campus was formally blest by Bishop Allen Vigneron on September 13, 2006. Fr. Brendan McAnerney, OP, DSPT Adjunct Professor and founder of DominICON , wrote an icon of St. Albert the Great for the school.
The community of scholars at DSPT is enriched through its membership in the GTU. The combined resources of the GTU bring together a faculty of over 250 scholars who offer more than 750 classes in theology and related fields each year. The variety of these traditions, in proximity and cooperation with the University of California at Berkeley, provides a perfect climate for social and intellectual interchange on all levels. As a result, DSPT participates in a rich and diverse community capable of engaging those conversations essential to the well being and advancement of the Church and society.
In 2007, DSPT celebrated seventy-five years of study in pursuit of truth. Making steady progress towards the fulfillment of the original vision for St. Albert College, DSPT brings together a community of women and men, lay and religious who strive to build a solid foundation which integrates the Church's philosophical and theological traditions with the needs of our times. Together we engage the contemporary culture in topics such as art and religion, bioethics, and inter-religious dialogue.
More information about the history of DSPT is available in the recent book published by Christopher J. Renz, OP, In This Light Which Gives Light.