The Dominican Story

V. The Order of Preachers

by fr. Gregory Anderson, OP (

Section I: Pulpit Preaching

As we have seen, St. Dominic was completely devoted to preaching the Word of God and preached whenever and wherever he could, once he had begun his active life in southern France. He was anxious to have Pope Honorius describe the members of his Order as "preachers" and was exultant when in the third bull of confirmation the Pope used that very expression, which meant that now his projected order of preaching brethren had papal approval. His first followers engaged in it with equal fervor and zeal, men like Blessed Jordan of Saxony and Blessed Reginald of Orleans, whose preaching drew in great numbers of recruits to the new Order. This dedication to proclaiming divine Truth became a hallmark of the Dominican spirit from the beginning and has continued down to the present time.

Early Dominicans took it for granted that no matter what else they did, they were expected to get into the pulpit and proclaim the Good News. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, did so on a regular basis even though he carried a heavy work load of teaching and writing. We have copies of his sermons on the Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary, which are masterpieces of profoundity in doctrine put in simple, understandable language.

Our own Father Augustine Thompson, a professor at the University of Oregon, has recently put out a book, published by the Oxford University Press, which shows how the Dominicans of Bologna in 1233 brought about a revival of the faith in the area around the city by their preaching. This was known as the Alleluia. Something similar happened throughout Europe. The preaching of peace and justice was an important part of the Dominican message. We read of men like William Peyrault and Stephen of Bourbon, who went around from one town to another preaching and hearing confessions year after year. The Order instituted the office of Preacher General to which only men of solid theological learning and a willingness to preach often and under any circumstances were so honored. That office still continues. although it is not as common as it once was.

These early Dominican preachers also provided another great service to other preachers. They prepared preaching aids, gathering anecdotes, sermon outlines and other materials to help priests to put together solid sermons. This material was not available until Dominicans put them out. We still do some of that but much less than in the old days.

An adjunct to preaching was that after their sermons the preachers would go into the confessional to hear the confessions of those who had been moved to penance by the sermon. Our home missioners still do this. In fact, it is an important part of their ministry. Another aspect of Dominican preaching was that it emphasized the love of God. We were not among those who preached hell fire and damnation and that is still true.

That term "home missioner" reminds us that going from parish to parish and preaching missions and giving novenas is still a most important part of our Dominican mission. It is a great ministry but a most difficult one. It involves living out of a suitcase month after month and driving tens of thousands of miles every year. There are many of us who cannot handle it, but there are some who love it and God bless them for it.

One of the methods the early Dominicans used in their preaching was to promote their Third Order, found confraternities such as that of the Rosary, Holy Name, the Blessed Sacrament. These drew people to their churches. But there were the sermons. Dominicans preached often, up to 240 to 250 a year. They preached morning and evening, on Sundays and feast days and on all special occasions. We preach even more often nowaday --- at every Mass, which adds up to a great number of sermons preached throughout the year.

As we go down through the history of the Order we meet such great preachers as St. Vincent Ferrer who lived from 1350 to 1419. Another great preacher of penance and conversion of life was Girolamo Savonarola, who lived from 1452 to 1488. Active at the same time was a preacher whose approach was quite different and that was Alan de la Roche who was a most zealous preacher of the Rosary. He was so popular that legends were built around him. He promoted the Confraternity of the Rosary which still exists. Its headquarters for our Province is in Portland, Oregon under the leadership of Father Aquinas Duffner and Cecilia Hosely, the Prioress of the Portland Chapter of the Dominican Laity.

The next outstanding preacher was Henri Lacordaire, who lived from 1802 to 1861, the greatest France has ever produced. He would fill Notre Dame de Paris every time he preached even in a time of rationalists and sceptics. He was an extraordinary man in many ways. It was he who re-established the Dominican Order in France after it been suppressed during the French revolution. He was a major figure in the revival of the Order, one of his disciples being Vincent Jandel, one of the great Masters of the Order.

Lacordaire seemed to open a golden age of preaching among Domincans in France. There was Monsabre, Janvier, and Didon who succeeded him as the Lenten preacher at Notre Dame. All of these men could fill that vast cathedral when they were scheduled to preach.

They were not the only top preachers of that time. Ireland produced Tom Burke, who lived from 1830 to 1863. He preached extensively in this country and once again, churches were crowded and the same is true of Bede Jarret from England. Of course, in those times there were no televisions, no radios and no movies so a good preacher could draw crowds. Besides Jarret, England also produced Vincent McNabb, who was actually an Irishman by birth but belonged to the English Province. He was a genuine, outrageous eccentric whose main pulpit was a soap-box in Hyde Park in London. With Frank Sheed and Mazie Ward he was a founder of the Catholic Evidence Guild that brought the Gospel into the marketplace.

In our own country, Charles Hyacinth McKenna built the Holy Name Society into the the most powerful lay organization in the Church. He could pull tens of thousands of men to one of his rallies. Following him was the greatest, Ignatius Smith, who was also a great Holy Name preacher. When Life magazine chose the ten greatest American preachers he was the only Catholic on the list.

In mentioning these men's names we do not want to give the impression that they were the only Dominican preachers of their time. If we were to start off listing just a few of them you would be bored to tears. What we want to leave with you is the idea that Dominicans have been and still are among the outstanding preachers in the Church.

Section II: Missionary Activity

Another form of Dominican preaching has been its missionary activity. As we know, St. Dominic yearned to be a missionary to the Cuman Tatars who were out where the border of Russia would be today. At that time, Eastern Europe and on clear over to the Pacific Ocean was inhabited by barbarian tribes that kept pushing one another by invasion so that the situation was always chaotic. But it was a great field for missionary activity. St. Dominic's desire to a certain extent was partially realized when he received the Polish brothers, St. Hyacinth and Blessed Celaus, into the Order. Poland was on the frontier of the Faith, not completely Christianized itself but it would become a base of operations for further missionary work to the north and the east.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Dominic's successor, would set up the Province of the Holy Land as well as the Province of Greece. There was also the extraordinary group called the Pilgrim Friars which was a vicariate of the Order that sent Dominicans out into that vast region of Central Asia. Records have been lost so we know little about the details of the works done by these itinerant Friars. This all came to an end in 1453 when the Turks captured Constantinope and became the masters of the Near East.

In 1492, Columbus opened up a whole new mission field in the New World. Dominicans, especially the Spanish, poured into it to bring the Good News to the natives. Their biggest enemies were their own countrymen. Bartolome de las Casas was the most eloquent and powerful voice for the Indians. Another great Dominican missionary was St. Louis Bertrand who converted tens of thousands of Indians. But there were innumerable other Dominicans working in these missions. We must mention just in passing the Dominican missions in Baja California.

The Portuguese had already opened up the Far East to missionary activity and Dominicans were there from the beginning. The Province of the Holy Rosary was founded in Spain to man these missions. The proto-martyrs of Vietnam, China, Japan and Formosa were members of that Province. They also founded the largest Catholic University in the world in Manila, Santo Tomas.

Unfortunately we do not have time to go into the missionary activity of the Order in detail but it is glorious and we can be proud of it. Father Francis Weber, the eminient historian of the Church in the western United States, sums up very well our missionary work in the Americas:

Since its founding in 1215 by Domingo de Guzman, the Order of Prachers has diligently sought to make the world its cell and the ocean its cloister. Entering the New World in 1510, the Dominicans, as they are known, settled on Espaniola, a small island in the Caribbean Sea, to begin an unparalled humanitarian campaign on behalf of the region's native peoples. Pedro de Cordova, Antonio de Montesimos, Bartolome de Las Casas and Luis Cancer are only a few who threw themselves wholeheartedly into the task of advancing the spiritual and material welfare of the Indian population.

In practically every corner of the two American continents penetrated by Spain, the Order of Preachers labored with distinction. As early as 1526, they moved from the Caribbean islands to preach the Gospel within the present borders of the continental United States, possibly with Ponce de Leon in 1513 and assuredly with Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon in 1526.

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