From his earliest years, St. Dominic would have been well aware that sanctity was equally possible for women as well as men: after all, his mother Jane and his brother Mames have both been beatified by the Church. When he came to the point of founding communities in which individuals could seek for holiness through common prayer and religious observance, St. Dominic took care to provide opportunities for both men and women to follow Christ’s call to consecrated life. Through the concrete circumstances of his work as a preacher in Southern France at the turn of the 13th century, St. Dominic first collaborated with his bishop Diego in the foundation of a community for women at Prouille, a small hamlet near the town of Fanjeaux. After gathering a group of men to establish the Order of Preachers ten years later, the sisters at Prouille gradually came to be seen as part of the same Order as the friars. Within St. Dominic’s lifetime, additional monasteries for women were founded at Madrid and Rome, while foundations for a fourth began to be laid out in Bologna.
After St. Dominic’s death in 1221, new monasteries continued to be founded throughout Europe, becoming especially prominent in modern-day Germany. While the early friars and sisters shared a common debt to St. Dominic as their founder and equally shared in his passion for liturgical prayer, one major difference between the friars and sisters was that the friars engaged in preaching apostolates beyond their priories, while the sisters were called to remain cloistered within their monasteries. Although the friars and sisters sometimes experienced tensions concerning the legal status of the sisters with respect to the Order and the pastoral obligations of the friars towards the sisters, over time a fruitful collaboration was developed in which the sisters were able to pray for the apostolates of the friars while the friars provided spiritual counsel and sacramental support for the sisters. Today, the form of life established by St. Dominic for the sisters at Prouille, Rome, and Madrid is still lived by thousands of cloistered Dominican nuns throughout the world.
— Fr. Innocent Smith, O.P.