Emily M. DeArdo


St. Dominic

A Day in the Life of a Lay Dominican

Catholicism, Dominicans, prayerEmily DeArdo6 Comments
St. Dominic (detail) from Fra Angelico’s  The Mocking of Christ with the Virgin and St. Dominic.

St. Dominic (detail) from Fra Angelico’s The Mocking of Christ with the Virgin and St. Dominic.

Lots of people, when they hear I’m a Lay Dominican, want to know what that means—and I realized I’d never written a blog post about it! So I’m way overdue to write one about what this vocation actually means. :)

(It’s going to be sort of long. Sorry. But thorough!)

When St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers (that’s what Dominicans are also called—and it's abbreviated OP, so if you ever wanted to know what that means, now you know!)

The “First order” is the friars and brothers—they are priests, or “cooperator brothers”.

The “second order” is the cloistered nuns, who live in monasteries. Yes. Monasteries for nuns.

The “third order” is the laity and the sisters (the sisters live in convents. Nuns are cloistered, which means they don’t go out of their monastery without a good reason and permission. Sisters aren’t enclosed.). Dominican sisters in the U.S. are involved in many ministries.

Now, third order laity members don’t look different than anyone else. We don’t wear a habit or any sort of insignia regularly. (Alas!) We can wear a medal of St. Dominic or another Dominican saint if we want, or a pin that has the shield of the order. But we don’t look any different than anyone else.

We make promises, not vows. They’re not binding under pain of sin, but we do take them seriously.

A “day in the life” of a lay Dominican actually depends on the person! It can look radically different for everyone. The rule of life for Dominicans is very flexible and allows for a lot of adaptation, which is one of its strengths.

However, in that day, the four pillars of Dominican life are probably represented. These are:

  • Prayer

  • Study

  • Community

  • Apostolate

El Greco,  St. Dominic In Prayer

El Greco, St. Dominic In Prayer

Prayer is—well, prayer. A lay Dominican prays lauds and vespers from the liturgy of the hours and says a daily rosary. She attends Mass as often as she can, and attends confession frequently. A yearly retreat is a good idea. You’re taught how to pray the liturgy of the hours in your chapter meetings (at least I was), and you can use either the books of the breviary, or an app—whatever works better for you.

Since Our Lady gave the rosary to St. Dominic, of course we are devoted to it! :) We try to say one set of mysteries—five decades—a day. If you can do more, great!

Bernardo Cavallino,  St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the Virgin

Bernardo Cavallino, St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the Virgin

So, how does that look in my day?

I say lauds, generally, right when I get up. I go downstairs, start the coffee, and start lauds. When I was working I said lauds at my desk before the workday began.

I say vespers around 5:00—if I’m going out to eat, or have evening activities, it’ll be later, whenever I get home. The rosary I try to say right after vespers, but if that’s not possible, then I say it before I go to bed. My love of the rosary was an early sign of a Dominican vocation. It’s long been my favorite way to pray!


Statue of St. Dominic on the motherhouse campus of the Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia, Nashville, TN.

Statue of St. Dominic on the motherhouse campus of the Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia, Nashville, TN.

In the above statue, you see St. Dominic holding a book. Study is key to the life of all Dominicans—St. Dominic wanted his family to preach the faith fearlessly. But to do that, they had to know the faith! That meant study. Even today you will find many friars assigned to universities around the world, where they interact with students and teach theology classes. Preaching is at the heart of the Dominican life—the holy preaching of the truth (“Veritas”) of Christ.

St. Albert the Great, a Dominican, gave us the scientific method. The “angelic doctor” of the Church, one of its mightiest theologians, is St. Thomas Aquinas, also a Dominican. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be a genius to be a Dominican. Blessed Margaret of Costello was blind and abandoned by her parents.

What you have to have is a love of study and sacred truth. This can mean daily bible reading, reading spiritual works, taking theology classes—whatever suits your interest. Sometimes chapters will study something together. But to be a Dominican, you have to love to read.

How do I do this? I’m generally always reading at least one spiritual book. I’m working on building the habit of daily bible reading (lectio divina). I love to read spiritual books and look forward to talking about them with my friends or writing about them here. You don’t have to read St. Thomas’ Summa. You can read “popular” theologians, like Scott Hahn or Bishop Barron’s writings. If you want, you can read the Summa! You can dive as deeply as you want. But you should always be learning more about the faith.


St. Dominic.jpg

Community doesn’t really always play a part in daily life—there are monthly/regular chapter meetings (every chapter varies, I think most meet once a month), but in daily life, there’s not a whole lot of contact. Certainly I have Dominican friends, including the friars that I personally know, but this isn’t an area where I have consistent daily contact. Some people probably do. For the friars, sisters, and nuns, of course, community is daily; it’s how they live.


Fra Angelico,  Coronation of the Virgin  (Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar, by the way!)

Fra Angelico, Coronation of the Virgin (Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar, by the way!)

Apostolate is “contemplating and sharing the fruits of contemplation”—a twist on St. Thomas’s saying (one of the mottoes of the order: “to contemplate and share with others the fruit of our contemplation.”) My blog is one of my apostolates; I write about the things I discover in prayer and study. The Catholic 101 series and the resulting book are fruits of my study, prayer, and Dominican vocation!

Some Dominicans I know are hospital chaplains; others are CCD teachers, work in homeless shelters, or make rosaries. There are as many apostolates as there are Dominicans. Mine tends to be more on the writing end, so it’s pretty daily for me. I write blog posts, or essays for Take Up & Read, or work on manuscripts that have to do with Christ and the Church. That’s my apostolate.

To sum up: A Day in the Life of a Lay Dominican is drastically different for every one of us, but it’s always rooted in prayer and study, finds support in community, and brings forth fruit in the apostolate of each member.

Here are links to the Lay Dominican provinces in the U.S.

Eastern (that’s me)




Do you have any questions? Send them to me in the comments!

St. Dominic: Preacher of Grace

Dominicans, Catholicism, dominican saints seriesEmily DeArdoComment

As Maria says in The Sound of Music, "Let's start at the very beginning." If we're going to talk about Dominican saints--and we are, oh boy!--we need to start with the founder of the order, and that's St. Dominic. 

St. Dominic was born in Caleruega, Spain, in 1170, to Bl. Jane of Aza and Felix Guzman. Before his birth, his mother had a dream of a dog emerging with a torch in his mouth, which seemed to set the earth of fire. The dog in the dream is seen as a play on words: "dog" in Latin is "canis" and Lord is "Domini"--thus, "dominican"="hound of the Lord."  At his baptism, his godmother saw a star on his forehead, hence the reason the saint is often depicted with a star about his head in sacred art, and why he is the patron of astronomers. 

St. Dominic receiving the rosary from Our Lady. Notice the dog with a torch in its mouth at his feet. 

St. Dominic receiving the rosary from Our Lady. Notice the dog with a torch in its mouth at his feet. 

St. Dominic received his schooling in Palencia, where he spent six years studying the liberal arts, and four years studying theology. In 1191, when a famine was raging throughout the country, St. Dominic sold his precious textbooks, clothes, and furniture to help feed the hungry. "Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?" he asked his astonished friends. 

In 1194, around the age of twenty-five, he joined the canons regular of in the Diocese of Osma. Canons regular were men who followed the Rule of St. Augustine and lived in community. Unlike monks, the canons were engaged in public works and ministry around the diocese. 

Ten years later, when Dominic was around thirty-five, he joined the Bishop of Osma on a diplomatic mission for the King of Castile. The mission itself failed, but it brought St. Dominic to the event that would lead to the foundation of his new order. 

In the South of France, Dominic and the bishop entered the Albi region of the country, where a heretical sect, the Albigensians, had taken root. (Albigensians were also called Catharists, in some places). Briefly, the Cathars believes that there was both a "good" and a "bad" God. All visible matter, including the human body, was created by the "bad" God, and thus was full of sin. Thus, even the body of Christ, the Incarnation of Jesus, was sinful in their beliefs. The "Good" God was the New Testament God, and the 'bad" God was the God of the Old Testament. Of course, this is directly opposed to the idea of one God that the Catholic Church teaches. 

St. Dominic, upon meeting an innkeeper who held these beliefs, stayed up all night discussing the errors and the True Faith with him. At dawn, the innkeeper realized his error and returned to the church. St. Dominic's zeal for the salvation of souls. But as St. Dominic traveled throughout Southern France alone (the bishop having returned to Osma), he saw the devastating effects of the heresy, and knew that he had to combat it. But how? 

The first people to join the order were women, who wanted to return to a strong practice of their faith. St. Dominic established a monastery for these woman at the church of St. Mary of  Prouilhe. These women became the first nuns of the order. 

On the night of July 22, 1206, St. Dominic saw a a globe of fire descend from the sky and and rested above the church. He saw this sign (called "Seignadou--"Sign of God") as a confirmation of his work. He would form an order of itinerant preachers who would go all over the world, combating heresy and bringing the truth of the gospel to the people. His friars would live in community, but not in monasteries, and they would devote much time to study, because in order to preach the truth, one must first know the truth. They would preach in the language of the people, so that everyone, from prince to peasant, could understand them 

It took several years, but in 1214 St. Dominic established the first religious community of his new order in Toulouse. It would be governed by the Rule of St. Augustine, the same rule he'd followed as a Canon Regular, and which gave a lot of flexibility to its members. The Order was founded for two purposes: Preaching and the Salvation of Souls. This is why members of the order have O.P. after their names--it stands for Ordo Praedicatorum, "Order of Preachers." 

The Dominican seal, with the motto "To praise, to bless, to preach" around the shield. 

The Dominican seal, with the motto "To praise, to bless, to preach" around the shield. 

The order was formally approved by Pope Honorius III on on December 22, 1216. 

St. Dominic founded convents and friaries (the priests are called friars) throughout Europe, mostly in University towns, such as Paris and Bologna. The pope invited St. Dominic and his friars to take up residence at the Church of Santa Sabina in Rome, which is still the headquarters of the order and the home of the Master General today. 

St. Dominic abstained from meat, and undertook long periods of fasting and silence. He "never allowed himself the luxury of a bed", and often stayed up all night, or late into the night, praying for sinners. He died at the age of 51, on August 6, 1221. His feast day is August 8 and he is the patron of astronomers, astronomy, and the Dominican Republic. 

Besides the Dominican order, St. Dominic gave the church another treasure: the rosary. The rosary was given to St. Dominic at Prouilhe in 1214. Bl. Alain de la Rouche, a Dominican priest, spread devotion of the rosary in the 15th century. The habit of Dominican friars, nuns, and sisters includes a rosary worn on the left side of the body, where knights use to wear their swords, since St. Dominic said that the power of the rosary was more powerful than any other weapon. Pope Pius XI said that, "The Rosary of Mary is the principle and foundation on which the very Order of Saint Dominic rests for making perfect the life of its members and obtaining the salvation of others." 

he habit of the Dominicans is representative of white for purity, and black for penance. There are three "orders" in the Dominican order: the friars are the first order; the nuns, who live in monasteries, are the second, and the sisters and laity are the third.