Founder of the Order of Preachers
Dominic de Guzman was born in Old Castile around 1170 into a noble family. Dominic’s two older brothers were studying for the priesthood when Dominic was born. Taking his studies at the University of Palencia, he was ordained and soon joined the chapter of Augustinian Canons at Osma. He was made prior of the canons at an early age.
In 1203 his cloister peace was disturbed by the bishop, who summoned him to go on a diplomatic mission to “The Marches”–a noble family living possibly in Denmark. As they traveled throughout France he met the heresy which was to be his principal adversary in life: the teaching of the Albigensians. Its affects had corrupted the whole of the southern provinces in France. Convinced that someone should preach the truth to these misguided people, he discussed with Bishop Diego the project of giving missions among them.
Dominic began the work with great zeal. However, there were several setbacks. The bishop died, the Cistercians, with whom they had undertaken the work, went home discouraged and Dominic was left with just a handful of followers. Dominic decided to organize his followers into a group with the papal commission to preach. He made several trips across Europe to get this permission, finally receiving it in 1216.
St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) with several startling innovations. Dominic proposed a democratic form of government in a time when the only form of government was the monarchy. The brothers would elect their priors, who would rule for a limited amount of time. Dominic insisted that the rules of the Order not bind under pain of sin, only under the penalty fixed for its violation. He was the first to propose an Order dedicated to preaching at a time when no one but bishops preached regularly.
Dominic’s vision and insights attracted many saintly and talented men. In the first one hundred years of the Order’s existence, 30,000 members from all the countries of Europe joined. Then the Order began to spread around the world.
St. Dominic died in Bologna on August 6, 1221, on his return from the Second General Chapter of the Order. On his deathbed he gave his brothers his last will and testament: “Have charity, guard humility, hold fast to voluntary poverty.” He promised them that he would be of more use to them in heaven than on earth–a promise which he continues to keep even today. He was buried according to his wishes “under the feet of his brethren.” St. Dominic was canonized in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX.
Dominicans all over the world continue to draw upon the charism of St. Dominic in order to serve as preachers of the Gospel. To be a Dominican is to be part of a family that includes cloistered nuns, ordained and non-ordained friars, religious sisters and laity. Dominicans are formed throughout their entire lives according to the four pillars established by St. Dominic: Prayer, Study, Ministry and Community. Our tradition of spirituality is rooted in common life, liturgical prayer and meditation, study, and ministry of the Word. A spirituality which was meant to bear the fruit of an active apostolate.