Dominican historian Simon Tugwell, OP, says, “the Order, if it is to be true to its calling, has always to be re-inventing itself. It cannot cope with all eventualities in advance; it must take the adventure of the road, and learn how to respond to unforeseen excitements, which it may well not feel very competent to handle, in a spirit of confidence in God."
This call to “take to the adventure of the road” is one of St. Dominic’s legacies to his Order. Dominic did not opt for the easy solution and affiliate the women he converted to an existing religious order such as the Cistercians. This was possibly a sign that the germ of doing something new in the Church was formulating in his mind: a foundation that would embrace both brothers and sisters in the same religious family. The Sisters he established at Prouilhe received their official status as nuns at the same time Pope Innocent III took the Friars Preachers under his apostolic protection, on October 8, 1215.
The community at Prouilhe flourished, and in 1219 was able to send eight Sisters to help Dominic’s second female community at San Sisto, Rome. Within a hundred years of Dominic’s death, foundations of nuns of the Order spread rapidly throughout Europe, from Portugal to Poland, from Sicily to Scandinavia. The first overseas foundations were made in Latin America - Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador - before the end of the 16th century. The other continents had to wait a good while to see their first monasteries of Dominican nuns: North America in 1880 with the foundation at Newark, New Jersey, and Africa and Asia not until the second half of the 20th century.
Many crises in history have disrupted the development of Dominican monasteries, but they never disappeared completely from the map. The French Revolution and its aftermath was by far the worst, leaving Prouilhe itself abandoned for almost 100 years, from 1792 to 1880 (more about this later.) Today, there are 235 monasteries worldwide, with roughly 3,500 nuns.
My blog for next week: the rise of non-cloistered Dominican women.