THE HISTORY OF THE ORDER
The Dominican Order is a Roman Catholic religious order, consisting of priests, nuns, sisters, lay people and youths. It is best known for its commitment to holistic education and the pursuit of truth (Veritas). Dominicans are preachers, meaning they spread the Gospel through words and actions.
The Dominican nuns were founded by Dominic in 1206 even before he had established the friars in 1216.Dominican Nuns are consecrated to God and live the mission of the Order of Preachers to preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls through a life of prayer, penance, hearing the Word of God and contemplating the mysteries of Salvation. The Nuns of the Order of Preachers are to seek, ponder and call upon the Lord Jesus Christ in solitude so that the WORD proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to Him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent. (Isaiah 55:10)
Living in the heart of the Preaching Family, the nuns live in the WORD of God which the friars, sisters and laity preach. In the cloister the nuns devote themselves totally to God and perpetuate that singular gift which Dominic had of bearing sinners, the down-trodden and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his compassion. They incarnate in their lives the cry of Dominic: “O Lord, what will become of sinners!”
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 converts 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 Prouilhe.
Why this place? There is a legend about the choice of the site of Prouilhe. 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 Proeilhe. This happened on three evenings in a row. This seignadous – sign of God – 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 proulouse became in his continuing formation for mission. These women “Free for God alone”, they spent their lives in praise of the God, “spending themselves totally for souls”, that Jesus Christ might be known and loved.
(Fundamental Constitutions of the Nuns 1.1 & 2 By their hidden lives totally devoted to God through prayer, penance and the practice of charity in community, they both supported their brothers’ preaching of the Gospel and preached a silent and radiant witness to Christ by the testimony of their own lives. These women became the first nuns of the Order of Preachers.
Prouilhe would shortly become something 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. There were seventy-four Dominican female houses in Germany, forty-two in Italy, nine in France, eight in Spain, six in Bohemia, three in Hungary, and three in Poland