St Dominic and the Order of Preachers
St Dominic was born in the late 1170s in Northern Spain, where he became a Canon of the Cathedral at Osma.
In 1203 Dominic accompanied Bishop Diego of Osma on a diplomatic mission to Denmark. Returning through southern France, they encountered a group of Albigensian heretics, and a few Cistercians appointed by the Pope to reconvert the heretics to Christianity. Diego encouraged the papal legates to adopt as their own the lifestyle of their opponents, a Gospel-poverty which the heretics found more compelling than the wealth of Church leaders. While Diego returned to Osma, Dominic remained in the region, preaching the Gospel with the permission Bishop Fulk of Toulouse.
In 1206 Dominic founded a convent for women, similar to the Albigensian houses of ‘perfects’, into whose care Dominic had seen poor families entrust their daughters. Nine women received the habit, establishing a community in Prouille, which served as a shelter for women converted from heresy and a base for Dominic’s preaching. This marks the beginnings of the enclosed nuns, from whom congregations of apostolic sisters would later emerge.
Devoted to his task and a life of prayer, Dominic attracted followers as he preached throughout southern France, hoping to convert heretics. At the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), he sought papal approval for an ‘Order of Preachers’, but the Council decreed that no new religious order could be established unless it adopted an existing rule. With the agreement of his brethren, Dominic adopted the Rule of St Augustine.
In January 1217, Honorius III recognised Dominic and his followers as ‘preachers in the territory of Toulouse’. The Order of Preachers was born.
Dominic’s vision was far-reaching. In August 1217 he dispersed his brethren to Madrid and Paris, and a foundation followed in Bologna. From the Order’s inception, because Dominic recognised his brethren’s need to be grounded in theology and philosophy, houses were founded in university cities across Europe. Dominican convents are houses of study as well as houses of prayer. The second Chapter (June 1221), sent a delegation of friars to Oxford, the last university lacking Dominicans.
Dominic’s personal dream was to preach in Eastern Europe. It remained unfulfilled. He travelled towards Bologna, arriving in mid-July, and was soon seriously ill. His personal poverty now became apparent: ‘he never had a bed of his own, so the brethren made him lie down on Moneta’s bed. When his perspiration made it necessary to change his clothes, they realised that he had no second habit either; Moneta has to meet this need too.’ St Dominic died on 6 August, 1221 in the presence of his brethren, and was buried in the priory church, ‘under the feet of his brethren.’
The Order of Preachers continued to flourish, spreading throughout world. Its mission remains unchanged, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls. St Dominic is our father, a model of prayer and preaching, always pointing to the person and Gospel of Jesus Christ. www.op.org.