In the beginning, Brazil was a colony of Portugal. For the Order, this area of evangelisation was reserved for the Dominicans of Portugal, but they never came to this country. It was only at the end of the 19th century that the first Dominicans, belonging to the Province of Toulouse, made their presence felt in Brazil.
However, we can say that St. Dominic arrived in Brazil before his children, thanks to the Franciscans, the Confraternities of the Rosary, and a Fraternity of the Laity. The Franciscan friars who founded convents and missionary centres from the first days of the conquest and colonisation, always placed in their churches, next to the image of St. Francis, also that of St. Dominic. They were the two saintly friends united in the glory of the altar.
Another means of Saint Dominic’s presence in Brazil in the colonial period was that of the Confraternities of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Priests. The African slaves organised themselves into Confraternities of the Rosary with Our Lady and Saint Dominic as patrons.
A third interesting case of St Dominic’s presence in Brazil is the institution of a lay Third Order in Salvador de Bahia, beginning in 1723. Some Portuguese laymen, perhaps already linked to the Order in Portugal, settled in Brazil at the beginning of the 18th century and, in 1723, founded a Third Order of St. Dominic in Salvador de Bahia. This Third Order flourished and built a splendid baroque church dedicated to St. Dominic as well as a meeting house, which had a great influence on the life of the city of Salvador.
The first presence of Dominican friars in Brazil took place in 1881 on the initiative of the friars of the Province of Toulouse (France). They founded a convent in Uberaba and then others in Goiás Velho, Conceição do Araguaia, Porto Nacional, Formosa and Marabá. The missionary work consisted of the evangelisation of the indigenous tribes living along the Tocantins and Araguaia rivers and the pastoral care (desobrigas) of the Christian people living scattered in the vastness of the central regions of Brazil.
From the 1920s onwards, following an explicit appeal from the bishops, the friars founded several convents in the big cities of Southeast Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, etc. The bishops wanted the Dominicans in the great urban centres that were forming in this region to guarantee the presence of the Church in the world of culture.
In 1936, Italian Dominicans from the Province of Bologna arrived in Brazil. Their purpose was to dedicate themselves to the evangelisation of the natives. They founded a convent with a minor seminary in Santa Cruz do Rio Pardo and soon after took over the convent of Goiás Velho that the French Dominicans were leaving in order to ensure a continued Dominican presence in the big cities. The Italian friars also dedicated themselves for many years to the evangelisation of the native peoples and to the pastoral care of the people of the interior. From the 1950s onwards, they felt the call of the big cities and founded new convents in São Paulo, Goiânia and Curitiba. Their aim here was to be present in the world of culture and in the outskirts of the big cities, where people emigrated from the countryside in search of a better life. Their missionary work was then to help found new Christian communities in these urban areas where the urban exodus of the impoverished from the interior was taking place and the Church was beginning to grow.
In the 1960s, Dominicans from the Province of Malta arrived to help in the pastoral work of the Diocese of Goiás Velho. They then founded several houses in the State of Paraná, occupying several parishes. For them, too, the missionary goal was to help create new Christian communities on the outskirts of the rapidly developing cities.
In 1998, the friars of the three entities created in Brazil (Province of Santo Tomás, Vicariate of Santa Catarina and Vicariate of São Martinho de Lima) were united in a single Province which received the name of Fray Bartolomeu de Las Casas. At present, the Dominican Family is present in Brazil with the Province of Fray Bartolomeu de Las Casas, a monastery, 15 congregations of sisters, and 25 lay fraternities.
Fray Mariano Foralosso, OP.