History of Our Patron - Saint Dominic

Dominic de Guzmán, known to the world as Saint Dominic, and the patron of our parish, was born in northern Spain in the medieval town of Caleruega, not far from the Cathedral town of Osma, around 1170. He is said to have been named for Saint Dominic of Silos, the patron of expectant mothers; there is a monastery dedicated to Dominic of Silos just a few miles north of Caleruega. A pious legend has it that when Joan of Aza was pregnant with Dominic she had a dream in which a dog leapt from her womb clenching a torch in his jaws and seemed to “set the world on fire.” Dominic had two brothers, António, who became a priest, and Mannés, who later joined his brother’s order and was beatified by Gregory XVI. Since two nephews later became Dominicans, Dominic must also have had a sister. 


His parents, Felix de Guzmán and Juana de Aza were members of the lesser no-bility; of his father little is known but his mother was renowned for her saintliness. She was beatified by Leo XII in 1825. 


Dominic’s elementary studies were entrusted to his maternal uncle in Gumiel d’Izan and in 1184 he was admitted to the University of Palencia where he remained for ten years. Throughout his university years he distinguished himself not only for his acumen and his dedication to his studies but for his spirituality and religious zeal. He was still a student when Martin de Bazán, Bishop of Osma, admitted him to the cathedral chapter to help in its reform. So successful was he in reforming the chapter that he was ap-pointed sub-prior and in 1201 he was named prior and superior of the chapter.

 

On 1203 he accompanied his Bishop on an embassy from King Alfonso IX to the Court of Denmark to arrange the marriage of a Danish princess to the heir to the Castilian throne. Passing through Toulouse on route to Denmark Dominic and his Bishop encountered the spiritual ruin wrought by the Albigensian heresy which first stirred in Dominic the idea of establishing an order to combat heresy. In 1204 Inno-cent III sent Dominic and Bishop Diego d’Azevedo to Languedoc to join the Cistercians in combating the Cathars. Dominic found the Cistercians failing miserably in their mission and quickly attributed their failings to their loose living and their indulgent habits. Once he was able to prevail upon them to adopt a more austere manner of life, the positive results were immediately apparent in the number of converts. In 1206, recognizing the need to offer protection and a spiritual alternative to women from the Albigen-sians, he established a convent in Proille. The rule and constitution which he gave to this order has been the primary guide for the nuns of the Second Order of Saint Dominic. 


Beginning in 1209 Dominic supported the crusade of Simon de Montfort to eradicate this heresy; it was a collaboration and friendship that lasted until de Montfort’s death in the siege of Toulouse on June 25, 1218. During the battle of Muret Dominic feverently prayed for a Crusader victory against all odds. So remarkable was the victory that Simon de Montfort declared it a miracle attributed to the prayers of his friend Dominic and he memorialized the victory by erecting a chapel to Our Lady of the Rosary. Tradi-tion has it that the rosary had been revealed to Saint Dominic and it is from this time that it came into general use. The spread of the rosary has always been attributed to the preaching of Saint Dominic, though this is disputed by historians. It is also from this period that Dominic is falsely assigned as the founder of the Inquisition and its first Inquisitor. What part he played in the Inquisition has been disputed for centuries. The historical sources from his time period tell us nothing of his involvement but he may have been called upon to judge the orthodoxy of those brought before the Inquisition on charges of here-sy. The notion that he became an inquisitor dates from the 14th century while the charge that he presided at an auto da fé dates from the 15th century. 


Saint Dominic’s fame and reputation were such that on at least three separate occasions he was tapped for episcopal appointment but always declined these nominations saying he would rather take flight than be-come a bishop. His preaching and spirituality attracted a band of disciples eager to follow him and be-come a part of his mission. In 1214 Dominic judged that the time was right to establish a religious com-munity to combat heresy. The first convent of the Order of Preachers was founded on April 25, 1215 and the Bishop of Toulouse canonically established Dominic’s community in his diocese in July. But Saint Dominic’s mission was not to limit his efforts to the confines of a diocese and he dreamed of a world-order to carry his apostolate world-wide. In November 1215 an ecumenical council met in Rome to ad-dress the extinction of heresy and the strengthening of faith. Dominic saw his chance. However, the coun-cil was weary of establishing new religious orders and zealously guarded the prerogative of the episcopacy to preach. Dominic’s request for recognition of his order was denied. 


Dominic returned to Languedoc and broke the news to his little band of brothers. They resigned them-selves to the will of the council and adopted the rule of Saint Augustine for themselves and went about their mission. Undeterred Dominic pressed his request for recognition with the Pope and on December 22, 1216 the Order of Preachers was established by Papal Bull. His band of preachers numbered only 17. Nevertheless Dominic decided to disperse them throughout Europe and these tiny cells in turn attracted more and more members into the order. Dominic insisted that the members of his order devote them-selves to study in order to efficaciously address heretical teaching. 


Towards the end of 1218 Dominic and several of his brothers began a long journey through France and Spain where new convents were established. In July 1219 he was back in Italy where he devoted himself to establishing new convents throughout the peninsular. In 1219 Honorius III named him Master General of the Order of Preachers and Dominic convened the first general chapter meeting on the following Pen-tecost. Soon afterwards Dominic took to combating heresy in Lombardy and the Dominicans are credited with converting 100,000 unbelievers through their preaching. It was during this time that Saint Dominic established the third order, consisting of lay men and women living in the world but dedicated to the work of the Dominican order. In 1221 Dominic returned to Rome and presided over the order’s second chapter meeting. He then departed for Venice to visit with his old friend, mentor and protector, Cardinal Ugolino, to whom he was indebted for many substantial acts of kindness. In July 1221 he was back in Bo-logna when he became seriously ill. He suffered for three weeks and died on the Feast of the Transfiguration. Pope Gregory IX canonized him on July 13, 1234, declaring that he no more doubted the saintliness of Saint Dominic than he did that of Saints Peter and Paul. 


©2017  St Dominic Parish, 1277 GAR Highway, Swansea, MA 02777