History of the Dominican Friars

The Foundations & Origins of the Order of Preachers

Stained glass commemorating Fenwick, the founder of the first Dominican Friars in the United States, in St. Vincent Ferrer's church, NYC.
Fenwick, founder of the Dominican Province in the United States, St. Vincent Ferrer’s church, NYC

The Friars are members of the Order of Preachers, aka “The Dominicans” and we are members of the Eastern Dominican Province. There are many provinces throughout the world, which together comprise the Order. To see a complete look of Dominicans throughout the world, visit our Locations section.

The Order of Preachers was founded in 1216 by St. Dominic de Guzman in response to a then desperate need for informed preaching. Against a heresy which denied the dignity of our humanity, St. Dominic trained a group of preachers who would serve the Church in its affirmation of the world as the place where Christ is discovered.

dominican friars (2 of 2)Against a heresy which denied the dignity of our humanity, St. Dominic trained a group of preachers who would serve the Church in its affirmation of the world as the place where Christ is discovered.

The chief motivation for our common life is to live together harmoniously, seeking God with one mind and heart. Our life as Dominicans is ordered by regular observance, which includes the evangelical counsels, common life, the celebration of the liturgy, and private prayer, as well as assiduous study and apostolic ministry.

Learn more about the origins of the Friars at our history FAQ.

St. Dominic

For eight centuries, the Rosary devotion has been one of the most popular devotional practices in the church. Its combination of vocal and mental prayer have made it a prime tool for contemplation. Jesus is the author and source of grade; Our Lady's Rosary is the key to open the treasury of grace to us.
Our Lady of the Rosary & St. Dominic

St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221), was a Spanish priest who was struck by the need for preaching the true faith in light of the rampant heresy he encountered while travelling in southern France. As Dominic began his preaching ministry, he established a group of women-converts into a monastic community that would have the special task of praying for the preaching of Dominic and his companions. Gradually he attracted men to join him in his task of preaching, and began the process of formally establishing the Order of Preachers. On December 22, 1216, Pope Honorius III formally approved the new Order, and Dominic served as the Master or superior of the entire Order until his death in 1221. Under St. Dominic and his successor, Bl. Jordan of Saxony, the Order spread rapidly throughout Europe, and quickly extended its apostolate to serve the Church is various ways. During the first century of the Order’s existence, Dominican friars served as preachers, inquisitors, canon lawyers, theologians, and teachers at intellectual and spiritual centers such as Paris, Bologna, Orvietto, and Rome.

Luminaries of this time include St. Raymond of Penyafort, a Spaniard who compiled an important collection of ecclesiastical canons, St. Thomas Aquinas, who was one of the most prominent theologians of the 13th century, Bl. Innocent V, the first Dominican to serve the Church as Pope, and Humbert of Romans, who served as Master of the Order, established the perduring form of the Dominican liturgy, and served as an advisor for the Second Council of Lyons.


Serving the Church

Studentate 2014-2015
Studentate 2014-2015

Throughout the succeeding centuries, Dominican Friars have continued to serve the Church as preachers and theologians. The Order has passed through times of greatness and decline, but has always stayed constant in its efforts to serve the Church.

While remaining fundamentally united in its charism and way of life, the Friars have reflected the various time periods in which they have lived and have found ways to preach in new circumstances.

Province of St. Joseph

St. Jospeh
St. Jospeh

The Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph were founded in 1806 by Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P., an American who had joined the English Province of the Order as a young man during its exile in Belgium. Fenwick eventually returned to the United States with the dream of establishing the Order in his native land. Due to the shortage of priests in the western states, Fenwick first established the province in Kentucky, and soon extended the ministry to Ohio.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Province began ministering on the East Coast while continuing its presence in Ohio and Kentucky.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, two educational institutions were established: in 1906, the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, and in 1917 Providence College in Rhode Island. The Province experienced a time of rapid growth in the early twentieth century, and in 1939, the western parts of Province, including Chicago, were established as the Province of St. Albert the Great. The southern parts of the Province of St. Albert the Great and the St. Joseph Province were designated as the Province of St. Martin de Porres in 1979.


The Province of St. Joseph continues its two hundred-year legacy of service to Church in a variety of ways. Friars serve as pastors and parochial vicars in parishes in New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Ohio, and Kentucky; as teachers, campus ministers, and administrators in colleges, universities, and seminaries; as itinerant preachers, travelling to parishes and schools throughout the country; and as chaplains to monasteries and convents.