The Dominican Family was founded by St. Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest of the Cathedral at Osma. He was born in Caleruega in 1170. In 1203, "by accident," he began a new ministry to which he would dedicate the rest of his life and to which he would lead many other men and women: preaching. The new order was given the title "Order of Preachers" (O.P. is the designate that you see after a Dominican's name), and their itinerant style of preaching was sanctioned by the pope. The particular charge to the Dominicans was to preach against heresy.
In order to preach well against very passionate and knowledgeable heretics, the Dominicans had to know theology very well. Thus study became a hallmark of the Order and the prerequisite for the office of preaching. Primary to all activity, however, is a foundation in prayer. One can't do God's work unless one is in close contact with God. The Dominican motto: To Pray, To Bless, and To Preach grew out of the basic commitment to apostolic ministry. Because human beings need to be encouraged and supported, community life became a priority for Dominicans. They went out and worked; then they came home and were renewed by prayer and conversation in community. The men and women of the Dominican Family all share the same priorities: prayer, contemplation, community, study, preaching.
The Dominican Family Has Several Branches
In the Dominican Order there are several branches, all adhering to the same major goal (preaching) and the same priorities, all living in the same spirit and charism of St. Dominic. And all have produced many recognized saints. They are Friars (brothers, priests), Laity, Nuns, and Sisters. Although independent of one another in structure, all branches are united by the Master of the Order, a Dominican priest who oversees all branches, even those in which he has no direct jurisdiction.
The Friars, both brothers and priests, profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Brothers and priests share in a common life in the spirit and charism of St. Dominic and may be involved in a variety of ministries. The principal difference between brothers and priests is that priests are ordained to administer the Sacraments as well. Ministries among the Friars include campus ministry, itinerant preaching, parish ministry, teaching in schools and universities, educational administration, religious education, authorship, catechetical formation, social work, psychology, health care, the arts, and household support.
Each Friar, brother or priest, has heard a call to his choice of dedication. A brother is not a potential priest but one called to be a brother. Many follow the preaching path, some are ordained permanent deacons, but they don't hear a call to priesthood. Some hear the call to quieter apostolates of hospitality and solace for those who seek it, others to very active apostolates. Priests provide for the Sacramental life of the Church as well. Each, brother or priest, serves in the ministry of preaching and follows the path to it: prayer, study, and community.
"On duty," the friars often wear the simple white habit that came down to the family from their Father, Dominic. It is a very distinctive sign of their commitment and dedication and a symbol of the spirit of St. Dominic, a spirit of joy, piety, and ministry.
From the earliest days of the Order, lay people have been an intrinsic part of the Dominican Family, gathered for the purpose of praying for the preachers. Now that education is readily available to all, lay people have a more direct role in the preaching mission. Many pursue degrees in theology or liturgy. Since Vatican Council II, the role of the laity in general has expanded greatly, and the Lay Dominicans have re-examined their vocations in light of Vatican II declarations. Lay Dominicans preach primarily in the marketplace or wherever their station in life finds them. They preach by their lives and example, and when opportunity arises, with their voices as well. The Laity pursue study, particularly in theology, Scripture, and catechesis in order to preach well when called upon to do so.
Lay Dominicans are not usually distinguishable, as their brother friars are, but sometimes they wear the black and white cross adapted from the Dominican crest. The Laity make promises to follow the Rule and Statutes of the Dominican Laity. They meet in community regularly and participate with the friars, nuns, and sisters, as well as the Church in general, in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. They engage in active apostolates such as letter-writing on issues of peace and justice, ministry to the poor, liturgical ministries, teaching, authorship, and spiritual counseling. They endeavor to live lives of simplicity and generosity.
Nuns are cloistered Dominican Sisters. Their lives most closely resemble the communities founded by St. Dominic to pray for the success of the friars' preaching. The nuns profess solemn vows and usually enter and remain in the same monastery throughout their lives. Their days are marked by silence, the necessary climate for contemplation and continuous prayer. Nuns are also authors, supporters of the missions, and ministers to the poor. They provide spiritual counsel and their monasteries are power houses of prayer. Many support themselves by producing hosts and vestments for Mass and other religious articles. The Liturgy of the Hours, as well as Mass and devotions such as perpetual adoration are the framework of their days.
Sisters are active, vowed religious women who are organized into individual Congregations, within which they minister as the common apostolate of the Congregation requires or work in the public or private sector. At the basis of all their activity is, again, the primary apostolate of preaching, although it may take many forms: missionary work, teaching, social work, and so on. In common with the other branches of the Family, Sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours, observe a regular practice of prayer and study, and live in community. Some wear the Dominican habit when "on duty," just as the Friars do, and some favor modern dress. Some live in community, in convents, and others live apart but come together often for prayer and sharing, which for all Dominicans renews them for their ministry.