Dominicans (dəmĭnˈĭkənz) [key], Roman Catholic religious order, founded by St. Dominic in 1216, officially named the Order of Preachers (O.P.). Although they began locally in evangelizing the Albigenses, before St. Dominic's death (1221) there were already eight national provinces. The rule and constitutions had novel features. For the first time the members of the order (friars) were accepted not into a specific house but into the whole order. The friar's life was to be one of preaching and study; the order provided houses of study at centers of learning. Unlike that of most orders, the Dominican plan of government is nonpaternalistic. Priors of houses and provinces are elected for specific terms, and they do not receive the honor and prestige accorded an abbot. Dominicans were prominent in the medieval universities; St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican, and the order has zealously propagated Thomism. It has been often called on to provide official theologians; this fact, as well as the coincidence of origin, accounts for the Dominicans being the order principally in charge of the Inquisition. In the 19th cent. the Dominicans had a revival in France and Great Britain, becoming leaders in Catholic social movements. Dominicans established themselves in the United States soon after 1800; their first U.S. province was founded in 1805. The Dominicans are especially attached to the rosary. Their habit is white, with a black mantle that is worn for preaching. They used to be called Black Friars. Dominicans are the seventh largest order. There is a contemplative order of Dominican nuns and a widespread third order, many of whose members are engaged in teaching.
See studies by R. F. Bennett (1937, repr. 1971), W. A. Hinnebusch (1966), and G. Bedouelle (tr. M. T. Noble, 1987).