As nuns of the Order of Preachers, our story really begins just over 800 years ago in Southern France with an Augustinian canon named St. Dominic de Guzman. As he rode throughout Languedoc with his bishop Diego de Acebo, they encountered a sect called the Cathars, whose preachers lived lives of great simplicity and apparent holiness, but who preached that the material world was evil and denied the incarnation of Christ. Rather than returning home to Spain, St. Dominic and Bishop Diego set out barefoot through Languedoc, begging for their food and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the manner of His first apostles.
In 1206, St. Dominic gathered a small group of women in a farmhouse at Prouille. The women convert could not return to Cathars home or convents so Dominic and Diego had to provide for them some shelter. In Dec. 1206 Dominic and Diego secured for the women an acreage where these women could live as religious women, alongside the Church of St. Mary’s in Prouille. Why this place?
There is a legend about the choice of the site of Prouille. “One evening, Dominic was looking over the plain that stretched in front of him from Fanjeaux and a globe of fire came to stand over Prouille. This happened on three evenings in a row. This seignadous – sign of God – was the sign he needed. Thus, what Caleruega had been to his earliest formation and Palencia to his education and Osma to his vocation, Fanjeaux, Prouilhe, and Toulouse became in his continuing formation for mission. These women “Free for God alone, spent their lives in praise of the God and salvation of the souls, that Jesus Christ might be known and loved.”
Prouille would shortly become a “double monastery” since it became a home for the preaching friars as well. The monastic community had its own prioress, while Dominic remained a father to them. In 1216 Pope Honorious III formally recognized the Order of Preachers in the bull Religiosam vitam.
Although Dominic and the early brethren had instituted female Dominican houses at Prouille, Madrid and Rome by 1227, houses of women attached to the Order, became so popular that some of the friars had misgivings about the increasing demands of female religious establishments on their time and resources. Nonetheless, women’s houses dotted the countryside throughout Europe. Dominican contemplative life grew rapidly especially in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and lastly in Africa.
In Africa Dominican contemplative life continue to flourish. There are monasteries in Cameroon (2), Burundi (3), Kenya (1), Zambia (1), Benin (1) and Nigeria (1).