St. Dominic was born in Caleruega, Spain, in 1170. After graduating from the University of Palencia and Ordination to the priesthood, he became a Canon of St. Augustine and superior of the Canons in the Cathedral of Osma, devoting his time there to public ministry of the Sacraments. While passing through southern France with his bishop in the year 1203, the young priest was shocked to witness the spiritual horrors wrought by the Albigensian heresy which, among other things, taught that the physical world was evil – despite the fact that God’s Son chose to live in it Himself. It was in this community, hungering for the Gospel message of Christ’s redemption of the world, that our zealous brother discovered the depth of his vocation and laid the foundation for the Order of Preachers.
A PREACHER’S RESPONSE
In order to reach out to these souls, Dominic founded a three-fold religious Order, one for the converted Albigensian women at Prouille (later the Dominican sisters), one for an apostolic band of friars preachers, and another for men and women known as tertiaries living in the world as lay Dominicans affiliated with the Order. At first, Dominic found the heretics unreceptive, stubborn and often hostile. But the barking of the “Hound of the Lord” (i.e., Dominic) continued loud and clear, while his hunger for saving souls grew stronger.
THE HOLY PREACHER
St. Dominic’s humility, fatherly kindness, patience and joyfulness under persecution impressed even his enemies who at times mocked, spat at him and pelted him with stones or mud. Since he could not shed his blood for their salvation, he fasted, took the discipline during his night-vigils of prayer, and walked barefoot from village to village preaching the faith. During his lifetime, he healed the sick, raised the dead, multiplied food, and proved the truth of his doctrine by miracles during his public debates. When threatened with death, he would reply: “I am not worthy of the martyr’s crown.” He twice rejected a bishopric, and he enjoyed a warm friendship with St. Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi, which is still commemorated in the liturgies of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders. Several times he was consoled and strengthened in his apostolate by apparitions of Christ and his Mother.
Four times in his life Dominic journeyed on foot to Rome. Pope Honorius III confirmed his Order and granted him the Convent of St. Sixtus for his nuns. He also gave Dominic the Convent of Santa Sabina for his friars, a place that, to this day, the Master of the Order of Preachers still calls home!
Dominic made foundations in university cities to ensure an adequate education for the brethren. On August 15, 1217, he scattered his men to various parts of Europe saying: “If grain is sown it bears fruit, but if it is stored it rots.” The Founder summoned two General Chapters in 1220 and 1221 and lived to witness the amazing expansion of his Order. He was felled by sheer exhaustion after his last mission in Lombardy at the age of 51. After making a general confession, he said to his weeping brethren: “Do not weep, my children, I shall be more useful to you where I am going than I have ever been in this life. I thank God who has preserved me in perfect virginity to this day. Have charity, guard humility, keep voluntary poverty.”
He fell asleep in Christ on August 6, 1221, at Bologna, Italy, where his relics now lie in a marble tomb of exquisite beauty, the work of Nicholas Pisano. The tomb was later embellished by Michelangelo and other artists, and may be seen in Santo Domingo Church at Bologna. From heaven, St. Dominic fulfills his promise to answer the prayers of all who invoke him.