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Growth and Organisation

From December 1217 until mid-May 1218 Dominic was in Rome, consulting about his Order, preaching and obtaining a series of letters of recommendation for presentation to bishops when the friars arrived in a city to make a foundation. The letters show Dominic’s reliance on the Holy See, help historians trace the opening of priories in France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, and reaffirm the Order’s name, mission, and voluntary poverty.

In Rome, Dominic received Reginald of Orléans, a professor of Canon law in Paris, into the Order. A magnetic man, powerful preacher, teacher and administrator, Reginald had a distinguished career as professor and diocesan official behind him when he became a Dominican friar. Soon afterwards he became seriously ill with a burning fever, but Dominic’s intercession gained his recovery. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, anointed Reginald, and approved his new vocation by showing him the Dominican habit. Later that year after having returned from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land (which is why he was in Rome), his leadership and preaching made the community at Bologna, founded at this time by Dominic, the equal of Paris in strength and influence.

When Dominic left Rome in May 1218, he began a visitation of the Dominican communities that occupied him until July of the following year, and brought him through Italy, southern France, Spain and Paris to Bologna. As he visited the communities, he admitted new members to the Order and founded new priories: Bologna, Lyons, Segovia, Montpellier, Bayonne, Limoges, and perhaps Reims and Metz. In Paris he discovered the community had expanded to count thirty brothers who were taking full advantage of the educational and preaching opportunities presented by the university city. Jordan of Saxony, a bachelor of theology who would subsequently replace him as head of the Order, declared his intention of joining the Order. In that year of visiting the brothers, the number of members and communities increased, and Dominic had amassed a wealth of data and experience about the Order: how the friars lived the religious life and implemented their mission, how they observed poverty, and what kind of laws were needed to establish good government and guide the ministry.

In Bologna Dominic found that the fledgling community he had founded a year before had, under Reginald of Orléans’ guidance, become a vigorous group of students and scholars of reputation. Among them was Roland of Cremona. Dominic took personal charge at Bologna and sent Reginald as superior to Paris. However, within only a few months of his arrival Reginald died. He had received only about 30 new brothers for the Order. Jordan of Saxony was one of those received by him. He would himself recruit a thousand or more men during the years he was master general of the Order (1222- 1237).

Dominic now took steps that gave his Order stability and a sense of identity, rooted in a definite mission and a clear understanding of the means to achieve it. The formation of an excellent set of laws and an efficient government were major means to the end. Several visits to the papal court at Viterbo were carried out initially, a new series of papal letters of recommendation were obtained and he stayed several months in Rome. This activity last from late October 1219 until the following May. Meanwhile, Dominic sent letters calling representatives of the priories to meet in general chapter at Bologna in May 1220.

The time was ripe for this step. In 1216, when there were only one or two houses and a handful of brothers, none had the experience and knowledge to devise laws for an Order that for the first time in history combined the contemplative life with a general active ministry. Now Dominic’s ideas had been tested by experience and his visits of the communities had prepared him to devise a government for a world-wide Order incorporating laws for preaching, formation of new members, studies, and poverty. In summoning a chapter of brethren, he declared his intention to proceed democratically through representation and consultation.