St. Dominic de Guzman
Today is a special day for me because not only is it my birthday, but it is the feast day of my birthday saint, who is very dear to my heart — St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) and the saint of the Holy Rosary. Also, the founder of my Oblate community, Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, is a Dominican. This is a special feast day for the Community of St. John.
Dominic de Guzman was born in Castile (Spain) in 1170 to wealthy nobility, Blessed Joan of Aza and Felix Guzman. When she was pregnant, Joan, dreamed that she would bear a son who would be a shining light to the Church. During her pregnancy, Joan also dreamed that she bore a dog in her womb and that it broke away from her, carrying in its mouth a burning torch by which it set fire to the world; a dog with a torch in its mouth later became a symbol for the order which Dominic founded, the Dominicans. Just before his baptism, Joan had a third prophetic dream. On her baby’s forehead appeared a bright star that enlightened the world. Although mothers often have dreams about their babies, Joan’s dreams were revelations that came true.
When Dominic was seven, Joan sent him to study with his uncle, the parish priest at Gumiel d’Izan. At fourteen, he enrolled in the University of Palencia. There, Dominic completed his secular studies within six years. Then he devoted four years to the study of theology.
At the age of 26, Dominic became a cathedral canon to a bishop whose mission was to convert Albigensians back to the orthodox teachings of the Church. Throughout his lifetime, he was a champion for the Church against the Albigensians – a fight which was aided by the Blessed Mother. The Albigensian Heresy taught that there are two Gods, marriage is a sin, and denied the Trinity, incarnation and redemption.
It was in 1208, while Saint Dominic knelt in the little chapel of Notre Dame de La Prouille, and asked the Holy Mother of God to save the Church, that Our Lady appeared to him and gave him the Rosary, bidding him to go forth and preach it. During the famous battles in southern France against the Albigensians, with his rosary in hand he revived the courage of the Catholic armies, led them to victory against overwhelming numbers, and finally subdued the heresy.
Dominic founded the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans) in 1215, a group who live a simple, austere life, and an order of nuns dedicated to the care of young girls.
At Rome, the Pope commissioned Dominic to establish a group of friars at the Church of St. Sixtus. It was at this time that that two famous miracles occurred.
The Rome foundation grew quickly and by 1219, about forty men resided at St. Sixtus One day there was no food in the house, two brothers were sent to beg. Near the end of the day, all they had received was one loaf of bread. When a beggar approached them for alms, the friars gave it to him. They returned home empty -handed. When Dominic heard their report, he said, “It was an angel of the Lord. The Lord knows how to provide for His own. Let’s go and pray.” Dominic prayed briefly in the church, then with the brothers in the refectory. After Dominic blessed the friars, two handsome young men appeared. They carried bread in two white cloths that hung from their shoulders. Beginning at the lowest table and ending with Dominic, they distributed a loaf to each brother. Then , just as mysteriously as they had arrived, they disappeared. Dominican houses still commemerate this miracle daily; food is distributed to the lay brothers and then to the priests, from the youngest to the most senior.
By Lent, 1219, Dominic had persuaded forty-four sisters to unite in one community. Dominic and three cardinals received the sisters’ profession on Ash Wednesday. During the ceremony, word came that Napoleon, a nephew of one of the cardinals, had fallen from his horse and died.
Dominic had the corpse carried into the chapel. Then, he assembled the cardinals, nuns, and friars and celebrated Mass. When he finished, he stood over Napoleon’s broken body and straightened his limbs. Dominic blessed the corpse, and with hands raised to heaven, he shouted, “Napoleon, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, arise.” Immediately, in view of many reliable witnesses, the young man arose, sound and whole.
St. Dominic was a man of remarkable attractiveness of character and broadness of vision; he had the deepest compassion for every sort of human suffering; he saw the need to use all the resources of human learning in the service of Christ; his constant reading was St. Matthew’s gospel, St. Paul’s letters and the Conferences of St. John Cassian. The order that he founded was a formative factor in the religious and intellectual life of later medieval Europe; its diffusion is now world-wide. This saint was the subject of the song ‘Domininque’ that was so popular in 1963-4; his emblems are a star and a dog with a torch in its mouth (Donald Attwatter, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin Books, 1963).
On August 6, 1221, at the age of fifty-one, Dominic gave up his soul to God. He died at Bologna upon hearing the liturgy’s prayer for the dying: “Come, ye saints of God, hasten hither, ye angels!”
St. Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers, scientists, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic.