Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

St. Dominic of Osma was born around 1170 in the town of Caleruega, in the diocese of Osma in the kingdom of Castile, Spain. He founded the Dominican Order of Friar Preachers and introduced the Rosary to the world. He died on August 6, 1221, but his feast day is celebrated on August 8 due to a calendar conflict with the Feast of the Transfiguration. He is the patron saint of astronomers and many places throughout the world. He is honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal) and Lutheran Churches.

St. Dominic’s three orders are Friar Preachers, Sisters (either cloistered nuns or active teachers or nurses), and Lay Dominicans (men or women who can marry and work in secular occupations). Members of all three orders have an O.P. after their name which stands for Ordinis Praedicatorum, Latin for Order of the Preachers.

Throughout the ages, Dominicans have done exceedingly good works. Many have become well-know saints such as theologians St. Thomas Aquinas and his teacher, St. Albert Maginus. St. Catherine of Siena, a third order Dominican, is the patron saint of Italy along with St. Francis of Assisi.

Unfortunately, there are some infamous Dominicans who warped St. Dominic’s rule and historical reputation. Benard Gui in the early 1300’s and Tomas de Turquemada 150 years later were vicious inquisitors and murderers of people they considered heretics.

Dominic battled heresy with the Rosary, prayers, devotions, preaching, teaching, a life of poverty, and simple conversations. He taught his followers to do the same.

He was a contemporary and friend of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order of Friar Minors. As such when I began my research, I was sure I would find as many biographies about St. Dominic as I’ve seen listed about St. Francis. I was, in a word, wrong.

According to Sister Mary Jean Dorcy, OP, “What we might call the devout indifference of the Dominican Order towards written records has made the preservation of any sort of documentary evidence more miraculous than commonplace.”

In other words, Dominic’s deep humility had him step aside in order to provide a clear view of God. And in doing so his brethren, so sure that everyone understood that their father was a living saint, didn’t consider the need to leave a lot of written proof.

We have only a collection of memories dictated by Blessed Cecilia Caesarini, a nun who joined Dominic’s new order when she was 17 years old, a biography written by his successor, Jordon of Saxony, the transcripts of Dominic’s canonization testimonies, secular histories, and several (but not hundreds) of hagiographies written over the centuries.

From these I’ve gleaned the following life story of St. Dominic of Osma:

Dominic’s father, Felix de Guzmán was probably a wealthy merchant of the upper middle, but not noble, class. His mother is remembered as Blessed Jane of Aza for her devotion to God. Dominic’s two older brothers, Mannes and Anthony, also served God as priests among the poor and sick. Dominic probably had a sister as well because there are records of nephews and a niece whom became members of the Dominican Order. Or it’s possible that the elder brother had a family as it was a common practice in the Church of that time for a parish priest to marry.

Before his birth, Jane often prayed at a nearby shrine of St. Dominic of Silo. She was particularly worried about a dream that she couldn’t understand in which a hound ran through the world igniting everything from a torch he carried in his mouth. Through her prayers at the shrine, she came to understand that the hound was her son and the flames were the word of God. She named her third son Dominic in gratitude for this understanding.

It should be noted that Dominic means “of the Lord” in Latin. And the word Dominicans can be turned into a Latin pun – Domini Canes meaning Hounds of the Lord. So it’s possible that this story was created much later.

Another childhood legend states that at Dominic’s baptism in the parish church, his godmother saw a shining star on the baby’s forehead as the priest poured the holy water. Many of the early biographers write that this holy brightness beamed from his face throughout his life. The star represents the multitude of people brought to God through the good works of St. Dominic. It’s also why he’s the patron saint of astronomers.

When Dominic was seven years old, he was sent to live with his uncle, an archpriest and teacher at a parish church school. Dominic learned how to serve as an altar boy or acolyte. He enjoyed many hours doing this sacred work and learning other ecclesiastic duties. Dominic had no recorded epiphany regarding his love of God. He loved Him from the start.

His uncle also taught him Latin, writing, and basic mathematics.

At 14, Dominic moved to the cathedral school of Palencia where he studied general secular subjects for a year or two, and then he began four years of theological study. At some point during his studies, many war refugees entered the city of Palencia, or a famine struck, or perhaps both at the same time. Either way, Dominic, who was known to regularly study all night long and had a love of learning, sold his books in order to create an almery so he could give out alms to the poor. When asked how he could sell his precious books, he replied, “Would you have me study off the dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?”

His fellow students and teachers immediately dug deeper into their pockets and donated to his almery.

He was ordained a priest at some point during his years at the cathedral school.

In 1199, he was appointed, not as a secular parish priest, but as a Canons Regular in the cathedral chapter in Osma. He was to serve under Bishop Martin Bazan who was working towards a reformation in which the canons were subject to a strict discipline and community life. Dominic received his new habit and took to his vocation with great enthusiasm.

His mentor was Diego d’Acebo who served as sub prior when Dominic was a canon. When Diego became the prior, Dominic served as sacristan. When Diego became bishop, after Bishop Bazan became a papal judge-delegate, Dominic became the sub-prior of the chapter.

Around 1205, when Dominic was in his early thirties, he accompanied Diego in his assignment from the King of Castile, Alfonso VIII, to arrange the marriage of his son, Prince Fernando, to (most likely) Ingrid, daughter of Crut VL, the King of Denmark.

They traveled on foot, negotiated the terms of the marriage, walked back to Spain to get the approval of Prince Fernando and then again walked to Denmark in order to accompany the bride to her new home. When they arrived, they discovered that Ingrid had died. They became men without a mission. But not for long.

With all that walking, they had spent a lot of time traveling through France where the Church was fighting a particular type of heresy called Albigensian. According to Church documentation (which is all that’s left to history), Albigensians believed that God was made up of two forces, good and evil and the physical world was considered evil. So if one wanted to be good, one had to give up everything related to the material world, including most foods and procreation.

Albigensians also vehemently opposed the riches enjoyed by individual Church authorities. Interestingly, so did St. Dominic and St. Francis, but they delivered this message in a respectful manner and via the example of their lives of poverty.

It’s important to separate these heretics from those whom were simply called “heretics;” such as Jews, Muslims, and later Protestants (but that’s a whole other story). The Albigensians destroyed churches and shrines. They also murdered priests, parishioners, and pilgrims.

Dominic was definitely involved in fighting this heresy. But he did it in a manner similar to St. Patrick battling the druids of Ireland – through the conversion of one person at a time via conversation, preaching, prayer, and the example of his life of poverty and penance.

The first person Dominic converted was an innkeeper with whom he talked all night. Dominic was so inspired by his gift of being able to explain to this one person that Jesus loved him and would welcome him home with open arms, that he made it his life’s work.

Dominic and his mentor Diego walked to Rome to request a preaching mission from Pope Innocent III to save people from heresy either in Denmark or in Tartary. Tartary was an area of Eastern Europe that had been invaded by the Tartans who were Muslim. Confusing right? Were they heretics? That depends on how they went about spreading their beliefs. They were, in fact, invaders, so there’s that. Of course, there was a lot of invading happening during the crusades on both sides.

What’s important to remember regarding saints of that era and the crusades is that to be martyred spreading the Word of Jesus Christ was a goal toward which they worked diligently. See St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan and St. Anthony of Padua for more on this topic.

Pope Innocent III denied their request. As they began the long walk home to Castile, they stopped in Languedoc in France. Here they were supported by monks, papal representatives, and local bishops in their work. Diego traveled back to Castile to prepare the Diocese of Osma for his long absence. Alas, he never returned to Dominic in Languedoc as he died in December of 1207.

In 1209, Pope Innocent III initiated a crusade against the Albigensian heretics that lasted 20 years.

Dominic spent ten years with six companions quietly working to convert people one-by-one while the crusade raged around them. The man who now influenced and supported him in his work was Bishop Faulques of Toulouse in Languedoc.

During this time, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Dominic in a vision and gave him the Rosary.

by Franz Mayer, Carlow Cathedral, Ireland

Although prayer beads had been used in the past, the Rosary came with specific instructions as a meditative and vocal prayer devotion. The Rosary was helpful to Dominic in converting illiterate people who couldn’t read the gospels by themselves. Through the point of view of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one comes to understand the life story, from conception to death and resurrection, of her son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

According to Pope Pius XI, “The Rosary of Mary is the principle foundation on which the very Order of St. Dominic rests for making perfect the life of its members and obtaining the salvation of others.”

The Rosary continues to help people focus their prayers as a hands-on devotion which can be prayed alone or in a group, silently, aloud, or a mixture of the two. The Dominican Brothers of Mary have created a cool Rosary how-to website.

When Dominic learned that the heretics used weaving schools to teach young woman their beliefs, he created his first convent to protect young women from these influences.

His life was regularly threatened by heretics. His response? “I am not worthy of martyrdom.”

In a meeting between some heretics and church leaders, Dominic convinced the bishops to dismount their horses and remove their fine clothing and shoes for the walk to the meeting place. When the road got rough, Dominic sang and the bishops, even though their feet hurt, joined in. Much was accomplished when the heretics saw what Dominic and the bishops were willing to endure for their Lord. In fact, over the years, many heretics not only converted but became followers or brothers of St. Dominic. Again, this was very similar to St. Patrick of Ireland and his conversion and ordination to the priesthood of former druids.

Dominic spent a lot of time walking from church to church where he preached and prayed. As soon as he left one town, he would remove his shoes for the journey to the next town, preferring to walk barefoot and rejoicing in the penance of difficult roads.

Once as Dominic walked near the Garonne River, about forty people on pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago tried to cross the river in a boat. The boat overturned and the pilgrims began to drown.

Upon hearing the shouts of nearby soldiers, Dominic ran to the river bank and saw that most of the pilgrims were already under water. He knelt at once in prayer. Then he stood up and called out, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come to the shore alive and unhurt!”

All of them rose to the surface and were helped out of the water by the soldiers. Sueiro Gomez, a Portuguese noble, was one of the soldiers. He later joined the Dominican Order and spread the faith throughout Portugal. Lawrence the Englishman was one of the rescued pilgrims. He later joined and founded the Order in England.

When Dominic was about 46, he began his Order in earnest with the help of many followers who were prominent men in society before they gave up everything they owned to follow the new rule of Dominic. One of his followers remembered as Blessed Humbert summed up their rule, “Study is not the purpose of the Order, but it is of supreme necessity for the prescribed end, namely, preaching and working for the salvation of souls, because we can do neither without study.”

Poverty is the way of Dominicans as well, but it is secondary to study, teaching, and preaching.

Communal prayer is also a major part of the Dominican life. Prayers, chants and hymns, know as the Divine Office – Matins in the morning, Vespers in the evening, and Compline at night — are said together by the community of friars and nuns.

Dominic himself prayed more than he ever required of his brothers and sisters. He included noonday and midnight prayers as well as spontaneous prayers. If he wasn’t talking about God, he was talking to God.

In 1215, Bishop Foulques of Toulouse showed his faith and support of Dominic and his followers with a written document that pledged a small percentage of the diocese income to support the Friar Preachers in their studies, teaching, preaching, and their simple life of poverty and communal prayer.

Dominic joined Bishop Foulques on a journey to Rome to attend the Council of Lateran held by Pope Innocent III which began on November 11, 1215. In attendance were 500 bishops, 800 abbots and friars, plus royal representatives from across Europe. They met to create a clear Church doctrine including disciplines and rules for clergy and lay people to follow. It was felt necessary for Christians to know what was expected of them so that they wouldn’t be so easily confused by and set upon the wrong path by heretics.

Indeed the old ways, if not corrupted by heretics were corrupted by age, decay, and multiple barbaric invasions and influences.

But this new age had already started to grow upon the shoulders of the founders of the Friars – St. Dominic and the Friar Preachers and St. Francis and the Friar Minors.

It’s believed that Dominic and Francis met in Rome for the first time at this council. Their orders were similar but different enough to remain separate in their works and throughout the ages. Yet, aside from a bit of sibling rivalry and some petty bickering, the two orders continue to team up in the name of God and in honor of the friendship of their founders who, according to Blessed Humbert, “ . . . were brought forth together to our Holy Mother, the Church. God had destined them for all eternity to the same work of the salvation of souls.”

Pope Innocent III gave Dominic permission to found his order and the assignment to submit his written rules for confirmation at a later date. Dominic went home and, together with his brethren, wrote their rule. According to the Dominican Constitutions, “The Order of Preachers was principally and essentially designed for preaching and teaching, in order thereby to communicate to others the fruits of contemplation, and to procure the salvation of the souls.”

Dominic further taught his followers that in order to sanctify others, a teacher must first sanctify himself by living a disciplined communal life of silence, poverty, prayer, fasting, and penance, according to the ancient rule of St. Augustine.

Although poverty was of utmost importance, it was secondary to teaching and preaching which couldn’t be accomplished without means to support the study and training of the preachers. In other words, it’s necessary to accept alms or other financial support in order to fund the housing and basic needs of the brothers and sisters.

Before Dominic could return to Rome, Pope Innocence III died and was succeeded by Pope Honorius. Dominic was uncertain as to how the new pope would feel about his order. It took some time, but Pope Honorius eventually confirmed the Order of the Friar Preachers.

During his long stay in Rome, Dominic met Cardinal Ugolino who was to become a great friend and supporter of both Dominic and Francis.

In May of 1217, Dominic left Rome and began a tour of all the new Dominican Order monasteries, schools, convents, and hospices. The Friar Preachers’ excitement at welcoming their father to the homes he founded quickly turned to unease as he assigned most of them to leave and establish new convents and monasteries in different parts of Europe.

When they tried to talk him out of this plan he said, “Do not oppose me, for I know well what I am doing. The seed will moulder if it is horded up, but it will fructify if it is sown.”

Again, Dominic walked mostly on bare feet as he traveled to each convent, monastery, and hospice of the new Order. He also stopped at every church and shrine along the way. He always carried a little bundle containing his gospel books and he would never let anyone else carry it for him. The more difficult the road, the more he delighted in enduring his penance.

Dominic taught that suffering for Jesus in remembrance of His suffering death on the cross, or for one’s own sins, brought one closer to God. This was a practice that he personally carried out, one could say, to the extreme. While he did require his followers to confess and do penance related to any broken rules of the Order, he loved them dearly, cared for them deeply, and never expected them to do more than they could physically handle. According to Brother Paul of Venice, “So sweet and just was he in correction, that no one could ever be troubled by a punishment or a reproof received from him.”

He traveled with various brothers or novices of the Order speaking with them about God in warmth and friendship. But his prayers along the road were private. Sometimes after sending the group up ahead so that he could pray, they would have to go back to look for him. They usually found him deep in prayer and unaware of his surroundings.

If he were in a monastery or convent, he would participate in the daily offices of communal prayer with his brothers or sisters. He’d also sing the mass and preach to members of his Order as well as to the public. In the convents, he’d “stand on the grate” so he could preach to his sisters and the laity at the same time.

But at night, upon the completion of Compline, he’d send his children to bed and stay up all night praying. He’d often be found the next morning asleep leaning against the altar.

He ate little food, partaking of only the slightest nourishment. In fact, he ate and slept so little that he would often fall asleep at the table waiting for the brothers to finish their meager meals.

When he visited the Order’s hospices, the sister nurses doted over him, but they could never get him to eat anything more than an extra egg or bowl of porridge.

He worked like this for five years, spreading the seeds of his Order, visiting the harvest and again spreading the seeds. Many of the brothers and sisters that he sent out became strong leaders of the Dominican Order and are honored as saints for their own spiritual heroism.

Miracles occurred regularly – visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, food appearing when there was none, restoration of health or even life. Many of St. Dominic’s miracles were witnessed by multiple people and are documented in the Canonization testimonies.

The first General Chapter of the Order was held in Bologna, Italy, at the Convent of St. Nicholas on Pentecost in 1220, three years after the Order’s inception. It was the time for the writing of specific Dominican Rules that would be interpreted and followed down through the ages and into the modern era. The Third Order of laypeople stands out as being solid in faith but flexible enough to adapt to changes in society and secular occupations.

During this meeting, Dominic suggested the election of someone else to head the Order as he felt himself unworthy. Plus, he wanted to be free to go to Tartary. He was voted down which shows the value the founders saw in their father. It also shows that Dominic was willing to offer up even his own actions to a democratic vote.

Many other items were discussed including the exact definition of poverty for the Order and how that would be carried out.

Heresy continued to be a major topic of discussion as they worked out new ways to fight its spread such as the introduction of the practice of preaching in the local languages instead of in Latin.

At the General Chapter’s conclusion, Dominic resumed his travels on bare feet and in good spirits.

Alas, when he returned to Bologna two months later in August of his fifty-first year, the ardent flame that was his life of love for Jesus Christ would now sweep him away to the Lord.

He arrived on that hot summer day looking much older than when he left, and he was suffering from heat exhaustion and fever.

He refused to go to bed. First he had a long conversation with the prior, and then he prayed in the church all night. He stood with the brothers during matins and then due to an extreme headache, he allowed himself to be led not to a bed, but to the floor of one of the cells.

The brothers tried all they could to revive their father, even carrying him to the church of St. Mary of the Mountain for its cooler air.

Here he gave a beautiful sermon to the novices, including:

Have charity for one another; guard humility; make your treasure out of voluntary poverty. You know that to serve God is to reign; but you must serve him in love with a whole heart. It is only by a holy life and by fidelity to your rule that you can do honor to your profession.

Then the church’s rector made some loud comment about the blessing he was about to receive by the death and burial of such a holy man at his church. At which point, Dominic insisted that he be returned to St. Nicolas’s so that he could be buried “under the feet of my brethren.”

When they laid him down again back at the monastery and before the novices left the tiny room, Dominic prayed loudly,

Holy Father since by thy mercy I will have ever fulfilled thy will, and have kept and preserved those whom thou has given me, now I recommend them to thee. Do thou keep them; do thou preserve them.

Then he looked up at the brothers who were all crying and said,

Do not weep, my children; I shall be more useful to you where I am now going than I have ever been in this life.

Once the novices left the room, he made his final confession, and the brothers began the Recommendation. His lips moved with them as they prayed in Latin,

Subvenite, sancti Dei; occurrite, angeli Domini, suscipientes animam ejus, offerentes eam in conspectus Altissimi. (Come to his assistance, ye Saints of God, come forth to meet him, ye Angels of the Lord: receiving his soul, offer it in the sight of the Most High.)

Dominic then reached his arms to heaven and died.

Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men, Celebrating the Saints

Because his followers took it for granted that everyone knew Dominic was a saint, it was twelve years before any of them thought it might be a good idea to request formal Canonization.

By this time, Dominic’s good friend in Rome, Hugolino Conti, had become Pope Gregory IX. Not only did he begin the process immediately, he even chastised the Dominicans for their delay.

The three Dominican Orders flourish throughout the world as theologians, professors, teachers, nurses, workers among the poor, and savers of souls.

For More Info:

THE LIFE OF SAINT DOMINIC by Augusta Theodosia Drane
SAINT DOMINIC by Sister Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P.
A Canon from Castile: The Early Life of St. Dominic of Osma, Master of Arts Abstract by Kyle C. Lincoln

But what about those of us who are not Dominicans, what can we learn from St. Dominic that we can apply to our own ordinary lives?

The Rosary is an excellent devotion. It’s a challenge for me to stop working long enough to focus on prayer. Perhaps, the Rosary will help me do so. Stay tuned.

I also love the way that Dominic, and his personal legacy, stepped off to the side so that his light wouldn’t block the light of God.

Acolytes do this every Sunday when they assist in church services and the setting of the Communion Table. They carefully, quietly, and “invisibly” devote themselves to God in what can be called a physical form of prayer.

Cooking can also be a devotion. Or at the very least a form of meditation:

“People always talk about the health benefits of certain foods, but the benefits of cooking itself are never really mentioned. The feeling of achievement that comes from doing something that’s manual labor—but without heavy lifting—is very good for your sense of calmness and self.” – Nigella Lawson

Okay, okay, I know that St. Dominic wasn’t much for the enjoyment of food. Further, if he were a guest in my home, the mama in me would be ecstatic if he ate even a simple egg that I had prepared for him because I would know that’s all he truly wanted.

But what about the rest of us, where’s the recipe we can lose ourselves in as a form of meditation or devotion, something special we can prepare for our friends or family?

For that we need my grandfather Domenic Nolletti:

Doesn’t he remind you of St. Dominic delivering a penance for the breaking of a rule? Look closer. See that twinkle in Domenic’s eye and the cheeky grin of my father, Albert? Doesn’t that also remind you of the love of St. Dominic for his children and perhaps all of us?

During WWI, Domenic fought for his country, starved, and ultimately survived while many did not. Later, he immigrated to Mamaroneck, New York, where he met, courted, and married my grandmother, Antoinetta. She had immigrated with her family from the same village, Collepietro, a few years earlier and had remembered him from the day he marched off to war with the other young men.

Years later, as a father during the Great Depression when jobs were scarce, and then during WWII when sacrifices were patriotic, Dominic devoted himself to feeding his family from his garden in the backyard. And in this garden, he grew tomatoes.

Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

2 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, pureed/blended/chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 3 cloves minced garlic, to taste

1 tablespoon fresh parsley

1 tablespoon fresh basil

1 table spoon fresh oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

A Word on Fresh Tomatoes:

First of all, if you’ve never tried this before, seek a demo or advice from an older family member as this kind of sharing of generational knowledge benefits the whole family. In the absence of such a person in your family, I suggest you call your chiropractor like I did. And if you don’t have a Greek chiropractor who loves to cook for the Italian side of his family and is willing to share cooking ideas and advice, you can at least check out his award winning chili recipe here.

Dr. Greg Demetrious‘s most important bit of advice is don’t bother making this recipe with “fresh” grocery store tomatoes as they are sorely lacking in flavor and aren’t worth the time and effort of cooking. But if you insist, add a teaspoon of sugar and some extra salt.

He also recommends that if fresh garden tomatoes are unavailable, use canned San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius near Napoli.

By “garden fresh” I mean tomatoes either harvested from your own garden, or purchased at a farmer’s market or co-op such as The Produce Box. Roma tomatoes are the best because they have a lot of pulp. But there are other similar garden tomatoes that would also work. The point is to have plenty of material to work with after peeling and seeding each tomato.

Peel and Seed Tomatoes

Wash tomatoes. With a sharp knife, cut a shallow X through the skin on the bottom of the tomato (opposite the stem).

Blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds or until the skin begins to tear, no more than 60 seconds.

With a slotted spoon, remove each tomato and gently drop in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

After a few minutes, remove tomatoes. Peel the skin off with your hands. Cut out the stem part and slice each tomato into quarters. Remove the seeds by sliding them away with your thumb. Squeeze out any excess juice with your hands.

At this point you can use a food processor to puree a third, blend a third and chop a third. Or chop them up by hand, or puree all of it depending on your desired texture.


Coat the bottom of large pan or pot with olive oil. Sauté minced garlic for about 1 minute over high heat.

Lower to medium high heat. Add tomatoes and spices. Cook for thirty to forty minutes, stirring constantly.

Serve over (about 1 pound of) cooked pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.


Add shrimp to the sauce as it cooks.

Serve with grilled chicken.

Spread sauce over pizza dough before adding other toppings.

(Originally posted on 8/7/2013 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)

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