In December of 1216, Pope Honorius III approved Dominic de Guzman’s plan for an order of contemplative preachers.
Tradition holds that shortly thereafter, Dominic had a vision while praying in the old St. Peter’s Basilica. Saints Peter and Paul appeared to him, handing him a staff and a book. “Go and preach,” they said, “because you have been chosen by God for this work.” Dominic then saw the friars teaching and preaching, traveling two by two throughout the world.
Inspired by his vision, the future saint announced that he would soon be sending the brothers out to begin their work of preaching. But because the friars were so young and small in number, with only 16 members at the time, many believed that Dominic was making a mistake. He listened to their concerns and protests, but finally insisted that they were to go out into the world. “The seed will rot if it is stored up,” he said, “but it will multiply if it is sown.”
Thus on August 15, 1217, the Feast of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary, Dominic sent most of the friars away from their established community. Only three remained in Toulouse, while seven men were sent to Paris, four to Spain, and two to Prouilhe and Languedoc.
Despite the adversity the Dominicans faced from the Cathars and Albigensians, from other religious orders, and from bishops who were extremely wary of these traveling preachers, from 1217 to 1220 the Order experienced an incredible amount of growth. New members were constantly being received, many of them professors from the universities where the brothers were studying. Eventually priories were established throughout Europe, in England, Germany, Poland and beyond.
We are told that after his vision, Dominic was often seen on the road traveling with at least one other friar, carrying a walking stick, the Letters of Saint Paul, and the Gospel of Saint Matthew. His zeal and witness to the Truth converted many lost souls, reconciling them to the Church and bringing them back into the fold.