The Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic in the early 13th century, rapidly spread throughout Europe in the decades following the confirmation of the Order in 1216 and the death of its founder in 1221. Soon, priories of Dominican friars and monasteries of cloistered Dominican nuns could be found in many major cities throughout continental Europe and the Middle East. The first Dominican priories were often founded in major university cities such as Paris, Bologna, and Oxford, but soon the Order had extended to areas such as Scandanavia and Hungary. In 1221, there were provinces of friars in Spain, Provence, France, Lombardy, Rome, Hungary, England, and Germany. Poland, Scandinavia, Greece, and by 1228 there were enough friars in the Holy Land to establish a province there as well. In the seven centuries that have followed, the Order has gone through periods of growth and diminishment, at times experiences both realities simultaneously in different regions. Throughout this time, the charism of preaching for the salvation of souls has continued to inspire the life and ministry of Dominicans. Over the course of this history, new modes of life have developed that share in this charism, including congregations of active Dominican sisters and the Lay and Clerical Fraternities of St. Dominic (sometimes known as the “Third Order”).
Throughout its history, the Order of Preachers has been blessed with men and women of great sanctity and erudition—and in many cases by individuals marked with both qualities! In the thirteenth century, friars such as St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Raymond of Penyafort, Bl. James of Voragine, Hugh of St. Cher and Vincent of Beauvais transformed the intellectual culture of their time, initiating intellectual traditions in areas as diverse as theology, philosophy, law, hagiography, and the natural sciences that have continued to bear fruit for centuries. In the late Middle Ages, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Vincent Ferrer, and Bl. Raymund of Capua each contributed to the reform and renewal of the Church in the midst of crises such as the Great Western Schism. In the early modern period, friars such as Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Francisco de Vitoria and Barthomé de las Casas contributed to the development of scriptural exegesis, Thomistic theology, international law, and the development of appropriate modes of treating indigenous peoples in the New World. In the nineteenth century, friars such as Edward Dominic Fenwick and Henri-Dominique Lacordaire worked to establish and reestablish the life of the Order, in the United States and France respectively. In the twentieth century, friars continued to make significant contributions to the life of the Church in a variety of ways, such as through the biblical exegesis of Marie-Joseph Lagrange, the theological teaching of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the ecumenical and ecclesiological work of Yves Congar, and the popularizations of Thomistic theology by Walter Farrell.
Today, Dominican friars, nuns, sisters and other affiliated members of the Order live throughout the world. There are presently around 5,800 friars (of whom about 300 are cooperator brothers) living in 550 Dominican priories and houses throughout the world, 2,750 nuns living in 200 monasteries, 23,000 active sisters belonging to 150 congregations, and around 166,000 Dominican laity living out the Dominican charism in the midst of their daily lives.