Priest

Father Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P., stands with a bishop and other newly ordained priests at St. Dominic’s Church in San Franscico on June 22. Left to right: Fr. Brad Elliott, O.P., Fr. Christopher Wetzel, O.P., Bishop Robert Christian, O.P., Fr. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P., Fr. Pius Youn, O.P.

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A born-and-raised Ellensburg man was recently ordained as a Dominican priest during a ceremony in June. Now known as Father Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P., he refers to himself as a nerd for Catholic theology.

“From a very early age, I started becoming interested in religion,” Pickett said. “I was always very curious about it.”

Pickett grew up Catholic and attended St. Andrew’s parish in Ellensburg. One of the earliest questions he remembers asking about religion was why he went to one church and his friends went to a different one, he said.

By the time he had reached high school, he had read his way through a large amount of religious texts and had wrestled with some theological issues. The end result of this, he said, was a desire to join the priesthood.

“It wasn’t something people told me to do, it was an interior attraction,” he said, although he admits that he had received comments that supported his idea. “Along the way, people would make comments like ‘oh, you would make a good priest.’”

He spent some time looking at various religious sects and eventually found the Dominican Friars.

“I thought, ‘oh, these are my people,’” he said. “They were kind of the nerds of the church.”

His parents, John and Barbara Pickett, who teach at Central Washington University, weren’t surprised when he said he wanted to become a priest.

“There was some initial hesitancy, just general concern … But once they saw me, in the life and with the brothers, they could see it was a good fit,” he said. “And parents are perceptive, they know if you’re happy.”

In his continued research, he found that St. Thomas Aquinas was the religious figure that he was drawn to the most, and that is where he takes his ordained name.

A LONG PROCESS

The process to reach where he is today was long, he said. It begins with a trial year, what he refers to as a bootcamp year, where those interested in joining the church undergo training and begin to adjust to the lifestyle.

“You’re free to stay or free to go, it’s kind of a trial year,” he said.

Following that, trainees undertake temporary vows and continue their training. This period can last from three to five years, he said. After that, they take permanent solemn vows.

“You make public promise to be a Dominican and be obedient until death,” he said.

At that point, they are Brothers and many stay that way. Others, like Father Aquinas, continue on to become priests.

“Being a priest is something that changes you forever, even after death,” he said. “The very being of what you are is changed.”

Dominican Friars take vows of poverty and live communally, where they own no possessions and live as preachers, teachers and academics.

“We have a stronger community aspect, so in the morning we have morning prayer and mass. And then throughout the day we’ll do our individual ministries,” he said. “It’s pretty diverse, there’s no cookie cutter life.”

Father Aquinas does not own anything, but is allowed to personally use things like smartphones, laptops and other materials. The distinction, he said, is significant.

“It’s not mine, but I get to use it ... You go to the community, and say, ‘Hey can I use this, or should it go to someone else?’” he said. “For example, I don’t earn money. The community gets donations and then allocates it.”

The only thing that the friars perhaps get a bit territorial about, he said, are books.

“Never get between a Dominican and his books,” he said, laughing.

ON THE WEB

In the internet age, the friars have moved from researching only with written materials to the whole of the web.

“If you want to talk about getting information, (the internet) is a treasure trove,” he said.

They have a social media presence and a website, opwest.org.

“It’s always about how can we go out and contact people,” he said. “(These days) people aren’t going seek us out, we have to out looking. … We just try to have a normal conversation like anyone else.”

In their off hours, the friars spend their time like most people. They hang out and watch movies and try to stay up to date with popular culture.

“We have to know what people are interested in nowadays,” he said. “I mean if I’m making cultural references from the ‘50s, people are going to get confused.”

Father Aquinas also goes running when he can, and though he tried, his habit doesn’t make the most practical of running gear.

Moving forward, he has been assigned to the Blessed Sacrament parish in Seattle, where he will live and work with his brothers.

“I’m super glad to be back in the Northwest,” he said.

In the last few years, he’s lived everywhere from France to Alaska during his training, so coming back to where he considers home is a great feeling, he said.

“Now I’m back, and the Mariners are winning, it’s like providence,” he said, laughing.

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