Dominic de Guzman, born around 1170 in Caleruega, Spain, laid the foundation for a world-wide Order of Preachers. In the year 1206, together with his bishop Diego of Osma, Dominic was traveling through the region of Languedoc in what is now France. There they preached against the Albigensian heresy that permeated the whole region, using a strategy proposed by Diego meant to “beat the heretics at their own game”: they would imitate the life of the apostles in every way. They traveled around on foot, and begged for their sustenance. In stark contrast to the customary comforts clerics of the time commonly enjoyed, they adopted voluntary poverty as their missionary strategy. It worked! By their ardent preaching, word confirmed by example, many heretics were reconciled with the Church. Among these were women who became the first nuns in the convent of Prouilhe. Recently rescued from the heretics, they were ipso facto alienated from family support and financial resources. Yet they were not likely to be readily accepted into the established abbeys. The immediate purpose of the foundation of Prouilhe was thus Dominic’s response to the urgent pastoral need. Revolutionary, yet scriptural and apostolic, this motivation sets Prouilhe apart in the history of medieval foundations. Jesus himself came to call sinners: the healthy have no need of a doctor, but the sick do. Nor is it without reason that Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the Apostles, is venerated as a Patroness of our Order.
The first monastery of nuns, established in 1206 at St. Mary of Prouilhe, was thus made up of women converts Dominic had “caught in the nets of his doctrine and drawn away from the turbulences of the world to the blessed shore where their souls delight in the suavity of eternal rest.” (Papal Bull of Gregory IX, April 1236)
This community, once established, became the center of stability for Dominic and the men who joined him in the Holy Preaching. Even after they had become self-sufficient, Dominic kept the two communities of preachers and nuns together, separate yet on one site; he understood the monastic community to be at the heart of something bigger than itself, that is, the Order of Friars Preachers. Prouilhe represents the first-fruits of the Order, and its nuns were part of that Order’s mission from its inception. Not only was it implicated directly in the work of salvation by reason of the persons comprising it, but the prayers of the sisters, efficacious as they were for the salvation of souls, complemented the friars’ preaching. Thus from the very beginning of the Order of Friars Preachers, the nuns instituted by St. Dominic have furnished “a living example of that reconciliation of all things in Christ which our brethren proclaim in their preaching of the word.” (LCM 2.II)
Sainte-Marie de Prouilhe (France) Basilica and Monastery.