The Order of Preachers was approved by the pope in the year 1216, but you could say that it began in 1206, when St. Dominic brought together a group of women in Prouille, France to take up a life of prayer, penance, and silence. These, the first nuns of the Order, followed St. Dominic’s guidance and spent their lives praying for the success of his apostolate.
To this day, the Nuns of the Order of Preachers continue to carry out this same vocation. In 1971, the Master of the Order, Anicetus Fernandez, addressed the nuns regarding the revision of their Constitutions according to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. He wrote,
Our holy Father Dominic instituted the Dominican nuns as an essential part of the Order and an efficacious help to the life and apostolate of the brethren. This contemplative life, “the best part” of the Christian life, has always held a most important place in the Church and the Order, but perhaps today is more necessary than ever before to the Church, to the Order, and to society.
The contemplative life of the nuns is of the greatest benefit to the apostolate of the Order, not only because, like other contemplatives, they offer their prayers and their life to God on behalf of the apostolic needs of the Church, but also because their contemplation and their life, inasmuch as they are truly and properly Dominican, are from the beginning and by their very nature ordered to the apostolate which the Dominican family exercises as a whole, and in which alone the fullness of the Dominican vocation is to be found.
In other words, the holy preaching of the Dominican Order stems from, and is the fruit of, contemplation. This contemplation of the nuns is the foundation of the preaching of the Dominican friars, sisters, and laity, who are indebted to the secrecy of the nuns’ cloister and intimate life with Christ for the fruitfulness of the public apostolate.
Yet, it is not only the nuns’ prayers and penances that win souls for Christ. As their Book of Constitutions states,
By their hidden life [the nuns] proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true happiness to be found, here by grace and afterwards in glory.
By their consecration, the nuns set aside their whole lives for Christ, becoming living witnesses of the beauty of the Christian vocation—intimate union with God. In this way, they, too, preach for the salvation of souls.
This year, as part of its 800th anniversary celebration between 2006 and 2016, the Dominican Order is reflecting on the theme, “Mary: Contemplation and the Preaching of the Word.” St. Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). The cloistered nuns give us the best witness of this perpetual contemplative gaze, and so it seems fitting that we reflect on the role of the nuns of the Order this year.
Throughout the year, then, Dominicana will be featuring a series of posts on the Dominican Nuns, particularly those in America. With over twenty monasteries in the United States, the Dominican nuns have a long and illustrious past. As a new generation of vocations rises up, we thank the Lord for his goodness, and we pray that many young women will continue to respond to the Lord’s call, laying down their lives for Him, that they, too, might find true happiness—“here by grace and afterwards in glory.”