By CAROLE BRESLIN
The sanctity of parents greatly influences the sanctity of their children, and hence we commonly find that not only are some brothers and sisters of saints also canonized, but their parents have been canonized, too. For example, St. Bridget of Sweden’s daughter is a saint of the Church.
St. Dominic’s mother and siblings, as well as his uncles, were all models of holiness.
In 1170, little more than 100 miles north of Madrid, in the small town of Calaruega, Castile, Blessed Joan of Aza gave birth to her son, Dominic, about whom she had a vision. She saw an all-powerful beast running with a torch in its mouth, interpreted as her son bringing light to a darkened world. His father, Felix, belonged to the somewhat respected Guzman family. As a young boy, his parents placed him under the care of his uncle, followed by placement under the archpriest of Gumiel d’Izan at the age of 14, when he entered the University of Palencia in 1184. Here he became one of their most revered students.
A contemporary, Bartholomew of Trent, told how St. Dominic twice tried to sell himself into slavery in order to ransom Christians from the clutches of the Muslims.
Before Dominic had completed his studies at Palencia, the bishop of Osma called him to come to the cathedral to reform the clerics there. His example brought the desired results, with Dominic soon achieving the level of sub prior and then prior when Don Martin de Bazan was called to be a bishop. The exact date of his Ordination is not known, but it happened during this stay at the cathedral. For nine years Dominic lived there under the rule of St. Augustine, where spent many hours in prayer and lived a quiet life, rarely leaving the house.
In 1204 he traveled with the bishop of Osma to negotiate a wedding for the king of Castile. Traveling through Lanquedoc, Dominic witnessed the damage that the heretical Albigensians had done to the Church. After a nightlong effort, he succeeded in converting the owner of the inn in which they stayed in Toulouse. This trip seems to be the same time that he had the vision from Mary asking him to promote her Psalter. Since people had prayed 150 Aves in memory of the 150 Psalms, Mary entreated him to develop it more and use it to bring people back to the true Church.
Dominic is credited with organizing the meditations for these 150 Hail Marys into the 15 decades of the rosary: five each of the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries.
Dominic sought to carry out this mission by prayer and preaching. In 1206 the opportunity to establish his new order presented itself when the bishop of Osma had to return home, leaving Dominic in France. He worked by prudent example of prayer and fasting to convert those following the Albigenses. He founded a house for women exposed to the errors and evils of the time so that they could live in community, safe from the dangers of the world. Next to this he established a home for men so that a supply of preachers to counteract the heretics would be provided.
Sadly, a civil war broke out in 1208 when the Pope’s legate was assassinated in Toulouse. As a result, Dominic met Simon IV de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who led the crusade against the Albigensians. Dominic, however, preached against armed conflict: “The enemies of the faith cannot be overcome like that. Arm yourself with prayer, rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes.”
By 1214, after preaching in Languedoc for ten years, he had been asked to become bishop three times, adamantly refusing each request. His strong desire now was to establish an order of preachers who, while practicing contemplation, would also work to reverse the errors of heresy and reform the immoral lifestyles of other clerics. He had gathered several men around him who also had the same desire.
Fortunately, he found a patron: Bishop Fulk of Toulouse, who not only gave him an endowment for the foundation of his order, but also took him to Rome for the Fourth Lateran Council.
Although Pope Innocent III warmly received him and wrote a decree to enforce the order of preaching, Dominic did not get permission for a new order. Because the council deplored the formation of so many new orders, the Pope only gave verbal approval to the order, instructing them to continue their work.
Thus in July, 1215, Bishop Fulk made St. Dominic chaplain of Fanjeaux, which provided the band of 16 men a residence. Furthermore, Pierre Sailan, one of his spiritual children, gave his home to the new band for use as their first convent. A year later the newly established foundation moved to St. Romanus Church. While this was a good start, it was far from the vision of Dominic who sought to do much more.
Meanwhile, events in Rome were developing in line with Dominic’s goals: to improve morals, stop heresy, and strengthen the faith. St. Dominic went to Rome and in October 1216, Pope Honorius III finally approved the constitutions of the Order of Preachers. St. Dominic remained in Rome to preach, at which time he also met the future Pope Gregory IX, who would canonize him in 1234.
Perhaps the most significant event happened after St. Dominic had a vision about a man who would help him save the Church through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary. When he was praying the next day in a church, a man dressed in rags came begging for alms. Immediately, St. Dominic recognized him as the man in the vision, St. Francis of Assisi.
In 1217 and 1218, St. Dominic established houses of study at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna, respectively. Next he sent out his band of men to preach and teach by example, after which he traveled to Spain, France, and Italy, founding even more houses.
He never ceased preaching and praying, urging his followers to hand on the fruits of their contemplations to others. The preachers were to practice humility, self-denial, and obedience, since “a man who governs his passions is master of the world.”
By the time of his death, St. Dominic’s order had houses in Palestine, Poland, Scandinavia, England, Spain, France, and Italy. On his deathbed in Bologna, he urged his preachers to practice the highest degree of humility and poverty, dying on August 6, 1221. His feast day is August 8.
Dear St. Dominic, teach us to practice humility, poverty, and most important, a love for the truth. Help us to love our fellowman enough to do whatever we must to convert the sinner within us so that we can convert our neighbors. Amen.
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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)