The Holy Preaching

Drawing of St. Dominic walkingDOMINICAN ORDER HISTORY
There are many histories of the Dominican Order. Few document how women became part of the holy preaching. From the beginning, women participated in the new creation of the Dominican Order. Here’s a glimpse of how it happened.

One day in 1206, Dominic was in southern France. He went to a high hill on the edge of his Fanjeaux neighborhood where he was pastor. He looked over the flourishing green and gold countryside with its rolling hills, winding, steep paths, and small houses. It is very much like our Sinsinawa Mound, especially in the summer.

Dominic was praying to hear God’s voice to grasp a vision for his fragile Order. He was discouraged and ready to walk away from their preaching since it was not effective among the Albigensians (Cathars). These women and men were already living in communities and preaching the Gospel, which acted as a powerful magnet drawing thousands from the Church to an alternative.

Dominic came three evenings to that promontory in Fanjeaux to ask for a vision, a direction for his fledging community. Suddenly, a globe of fire, the Seignadou, the sign of God, came to rest in the valley at Prouilhe. He knew intuitively that God wanted this place to be a home for the holy preaching.

In 1206, Dominic gathered a group of nine Albigensian widows. He prayed with them, instructed them in the Gospel, and created a monastery with them. These women became the holy preaching through their communal lives. They drew others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They supported the preaching mission. They were a resting place, a hospice for the friars to be nourished for itinerant preaching.

Dominic and his friars did not dismiss the Albigensians. They did not participate in the crusade that began in 1208. Clerics in the north encouraged and supported large military forces for violent burning, killing, and looting of the Albigensian strongholds and castles in southern France. Dominic and his friars continued their preaching mission throughout Fanjeaux, Toulouse, and Carcasonne. They sponsored debates with the Albigensians. Dominic even befriended Simon de Montfort, a leading Catholic military leader.

While the women lived the holy preaching in the monastery, Dominic sent out the friars with companions. They were itinerant and free to proclaim the Gospel. They carried no money bag, no sack, no sandals . . . Wherever they went, they proclaimed the Gospel, the reign of God is at hand. Sometimes, their words were effective. At other times, they shook the dust off the town and townspeople off their feet.

In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas’ teaching at the University of Paris had unregistered students crowding his classroom and standing in the alleys waiting for him to discuss the Bible and theology. In the 14th century, Catherine of Siena’s passionate, convincing words turned the hearts and minds of warring Italian princes and an Avignon pope to return to the Gospel.

For centuries persons have walked the steep, uneven, knee-high grassy road from Fanjeaux to the valley of Prouilhe to be welcomed as guests, as pilgrims. Inside the chapel, on the wall is the seal of the mission. It is the sun with rays emanating from the center, the lamb of God with a banner of the cross. It is an early symbol of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Our Dominican sisters and brothers and all who share our vision continue to be the holy preaching and to proclaim the risen Christ no matter what the cost.

Women and men who are the Dominican Family throughout the world (sisters, brothers, cloistered nuns, and laity) know that personal and communal contemplation shapes and supports our witness to the reign of God. It speaks of our interdependence upon God and one another. Contemplation is the foundation of our lives, our relationships, and our ministries. Today there is a vital urgency and need for a profound commitment of Dominican women and men to embrace the mission of the holy preaching with one another. We are convinced that speaking the truth in love continues the new creation and builds the reign of God here and now in the midst of our broken, fragile world.

Sister Mary Margaret Pazdan
Sister Mary Margaret Pazdan, OP

Written by Mary Margaret Pazdan, OP