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Four Branches of the Dominican Order

When Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) founded the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, at the beginning of the 13th Century the world he knew was in turmoil. Europe's agrarian population was shifting to urban centers, creating waves of change that affected of of life, including economic and social relationships, politics and religious. Universities established in these new urban centers were attracting the interest of the new generation and the attention of Dominic as well.

In 1203, Dominic dedicated his life and to a new ministry, through which he would lead many other men and women: preaching. The new order was given the title Order of Preachers and their itinerant style of preaching keeps them on the move. Today, many Dominicans would say that they preach with the Sacred Scripture in one hand and the newspaper in the other. In this way their preaching is to bring the Word of God into dialogue with the complexities and challenges of our world.

The Dominican Family Has Several Branches

In the Dominican Order there are several branches, all focused around a passion for preaching and the same priorities, all living in the same spirit and charism of St. Dominic. And all have produced many recognized saints. They are Friars (brothers, priests), Laity, Nuns, and Sisters.


The Friars, both brothers and priests, profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Brothers and priests share in a common life in the spirit and charism of St. Dominic and may be involved in a variety of ministries. Ministries among the Friars include campus ministry, itinerant preaching, parish ministry, teaching in schools and universities, educational administration, religious education, authorship, catechetical formation, social work, psychology, health care, the arts, and household support.

Each Friar, brother or priest, has heard a call to his choice of dedication. A brother is not a potential priest but one called to be a brother. Many follow the preaching path, some are ordained permanent deacons, but they don't hear a call to priesthood. Some hear the call to quieter apostolates of hospitality and solace for those who seek it, others to very active apostolates. Priests provide for the Sacramental life of the Church as well. Each, brother or priest, serves in the ministry of preaching and follows the path to it: prayer, study, and community.


Sisters are active, vowed religious women who are members of over 25 different congregations in the US. At the basis of all their activity is the primary apostolate of preaching that takes many forms: teaching, social work, missionary work, advocacy for the poor, care of the earth, housing ministries, retreat and spiritual direction, the arts, just to name a few. In common with the other branches of the Family, Sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours, observe a regular practice of prayer and study, and share community.

Many Dominicans sisters' congregations enjoy an enriching relationship with Associate members who participate in the congregation's charism, Dominican spirituality and tradition. In this way, Dominican charism is extended even wider.

Nuns are cloistered Dominican Sisters. Their lives most closely resemble the communities founded by St. Dominic to pray for the success of the holy preaching of the Order. The nuns profess solemn vows and usually enter and remain in the same monastery throughout their lives. Their days are marked by silence, the necessary climate for contemplation and continuous prayer. Nuns are also authors, supporters of the missions, and ministers to the poor. They provide spiritual counsel and their monasteries are power houses of prayer. Many support themselves by producing hosts and vestments for Mass and other religious articles. The Liturgy of the Hours, as well as Mass and devotions such as perpetual adoration are the framework of their days.

Lay Dominicans have a direct role in the preaching mission. Many pursue degrees in theology or liturgy, are engaged in justice ministries and fully participate in St. Dominic's call to contemplate and share with others the fruits of contemplation.. Lay Dominicans preach primarily in wherever our station in life finds us. We preach by our lives and example, and when opportunity arises, with our voices as well. Dominican Lay men and women pursue study, particularly in theology, Scripture, and catechesis in order to preach well when called upon to do so.

The Lay Dominicans make promises to follow The Rule of the Lay Chapters of St. Dominic and the Particular Directory of the Province in which they live. They meet in community regularly and participate with the friars, nuns, and sisters, as well as the Church in general, in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. They engage in active apostolates such as letter-writing on issues of peace and justice, ministry to the poor, liturgical ministries, teaching, authorship, and spiritual counseling.