In the early 13th century a Spanish priest named Dominic de Guzman, while traveling with his bishop, encountered the Cathar heresy spreading through southern France. Cathars believed that the physical world was evil. They denied the incarnation of Christ, the efficacy of the Sacraments and the goodness of creation. St. Dominic recognized the need for educated and prayerful men to preach the truth of the Gospel to Cathars and bring them back to Christ. Gathering a band of 16 preachers, he founded the Order of Preachers in Toulouse, France, in 1216.
In his approval of this new Order, Pope Honorius III noted that the need for educated apostolic preaching extended beyond the region of southern France. Within a year, St. Dominic split his band of brothers and sent them into Spain and northern France for further education and to continue the work of preaching the Gospel. By the time of his death in 1221, there were more than 200 Dominican Friars living and preaching throughout Europe. In the centuries that followed, the Order spread to Africa, Asia and the Americas. Today, there are more than 5,000 Dominican Friars. They continue the mission begun by St. Dominic of preaching everywhere the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is done with fullness of mind and openness both to the Spirit of God and to the hearts of those to whom the word of God is being preached.
The Western Dominican Province
In 1850, the first Dominicans came to the west coast of the United States during the California Gold Rush. Fr. Peter Augustine Anderson, O.P., celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the goldfields and established the first parish in what became the city of Sacramento. During this time, the city of San Francisco became the seat of a new diocese. The first bishop selected in 1850 was the co-founder of the Western Dominican Province, Fr. Joseph Alemany, OP.
Currently, there are 150 Dominicans assigned to 18 communities in the western United States and Mexico. The friars have houses in every major city in the West extending north to south from Anchorage, Alaska to San Diego, California and east to Salt Lake City, Utah. The province is formally called The Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
The Dominican Life
The lives of the friars are built upon the Four Pillars of the Order: Common life, Prayer, Study, Preaching. The first three pillars direct the friar toward his own sanctification and to the glory of God. They impel the friar to preach the Gospel to his neighbor.
Following the example of the apostles and of the early Church, Dominicans live in community so that they might be “of one heart and mind” in God. (Acts 4:32) Holding all possessions in common, the friars are all committed to the work of evangelization. The roots of fraternal unity are founded in the love of God. This unity is a living example of universal reconciliation in Christ that Dominicans proclaim.
Obedience: If a community is to remain true to its spirit and mission, it needs to achieve that unity through obedience. A Dominican friar imitates Christ who was united by obedience to the Father. By doing so he, like Christ, is more closely united to the Church.
Chastity: The friars imitate the chaste life of Christ who for love of the Church gave himself up for her. Impelled by the vocation to preach, the friar is wholly dedicated to the Church and thus to charity for all of humanity. A life of chastity is a witness to the kingdom of God present now in the world and of the heavenly kingdom to come.
Poverty: The Dominicans hold their possessions and resources in common. The spirit of poverty guides the friars to place their treasure in heaven, fostering a friar’s trust in God’s providence. In his poverty, the friar hopes to give the riches of his life to others, imitating Christ, “who for our sake became poor that by his poverty we might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
St. Dominic was deeply devoted to the liturgy of the hours, private prayer, and the Eucharist whether at home or on the road, by day and by night. It was said that when St. Dominic talked he spoke only of God or to God. It was his express desire that the community celebration of the liturgy, the Mass and divine office, be a principal duty of a friar’s vocation. The Mass is the bond of fraternal love and the primary source of apostolic vigor. A friar is also to seek divine truth, personal conversion and friendship with God in daily private prayer, whether in meditation, Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary or other forms of prayer.
From the time of its foundation, the Order of Preachers linked the activity of study to the ministry of salvation. To preach against the Cathar movement, it was necessary for the friars to be deeply versed and educated in Catholic doctrine, Scripture and the traditions of the Church. Today, as it did in the time of St. Dominic, study enables the preacher to ponder in his heart the manifold wisdom of God and the experience of humanity on earth, and it equips him for the doctrinal service of the Church and of all people. Study is a form of prayer where divine truth can be revealed. It requires strict discipline and the application of all one’s abilities.
The object of preaching is either to cause the faith to be born or to allow it to penetrate people’s entire lives more deeply, thus building the Body of Christ which is brought to perfection by the sacraments of faith. The Dominicans continue the mission of prophetically preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. It is done with openness both to the Spirit of God and to the hearts of those to whom the word of God is being preached. This apostolate takes many forms: university teaching, parish ministry, foreign missions, itinerant preaching, college campus ministry, high school education, publishing, chaplaincies in hospitals, convents, prisons and the military services, media production, and many others.