Dominican Saints & Blesseds
The Catholic Church officially proclaims individual believers as "saints" or "blesseds" for their lives of exceptional commitment to God and love of neighbor, but the word "saint" is actually much broader in meaning. "Sanctity" means holiness, and the Church asserts that all men, women, and children are holy for they bear the image of God.
All Christians are guided by the hope that they might help build up God's Kingdom on earth and one day they might live with Christ in the heavenly kingdom. Those Christians whose lives are exceptionally exemplary and who have been shown to have interceded miraculously on behalf of others may be beautified and canonized by the Church.
The Dominican Order has a long tradition of recognized saints (individuals who have been canonized) and blesseds (individuals who have been beautified). Dominican saints include the founder of the Order himself, St. Dominic de Guzman; the world's most renowned theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas; and others who have lived lives of exceptional charity, such as St. Martin de Porres and St. Catherine of Siena. Dominican blesseds include St. Zedíslava Berkiana, Lay Dominican and wife, who raised four children, founded 2 Dominican priories, and developed charities for the needy, the sick, and indigent families.
St. Dominic de Guzman (c. 1170 - 1221)
Feast Day: August 8
Founder of the Order of Preachers
Born in Old Castile, on the border of Christian Spain, Dominic de Guzman studied at the University of Palencia and was ordained as a priest. Soon after, he joined the chapter of Augustinian Canons at Osma.
Dramatic Social Change. The 13th century was one of drastic change: feudalism was weakening, towns were growing, and a new economy was being established. With this new economy came new ways of living which called the Catholic Church to develop new ways of preaching the gospel. Dominic and the Friar Preachers would play critical roles in this transition.
Reaching the Heretics. Dominic's life work began in a most unanticipated way: Traveling with his bishop through France to arrange a marriage, they found the majority of the people had adopted heretical beliefs. Dominic knew the Church had to challenge the heretics in a totally innovative manner; other attempts had tried and failed.
The bishops had tried to preach to the townsfolk, but their regal dress and demeanor, as well as the excesses of the Church, often lost the argument for them. The heretics, on the contrary, lived simple, chaste lives, following the example of Christ. Their preaching was direct and their sincerity was evident.
Innovative Preaching. Dominic decided that he and the friars would also emulate the life of Christ, traveling, having no belongings and begging for their daily sustenance. They would depend solely on the Providence of God, their lives giving testimony to their authentic preaching. Preaching in people's homes, on street corners, and in the countryside, they would bring the gospels directly to the people. It worked!
Commissioning the Order. The Pope commissioned the Order in 1216. Continuing to innovate, Dominic instituted a democratic form of governance in a time when Europe was ruled by monarchies. Dominic's vision and devotion attracted many saintly and talented men and women through his death in 1221. Pope Gregory IX canonized Dominic in 1234.
Continued Growth. In its first 100 years, the Order grew to 30,000 members from across Europe. Members of the Dominican Family are now found in over 92 countries and continue to bear the fruit of an active apostolate—one that joins contemplation to ministry to others.
St. Albert the Great (c. 1206-1280)
Feast Day: November 15
Father of the Natural Sciences
If you are among those who think science and religion were at odds during the medieval period, you have yet to be introduced to Saint Albert the Great. Dubbed "The Great," by his contemporaries because of the scope and depth of his learning, he was recognized in his own lifetime and for centuries that followed as an authority on physics, geography, astronomy, mineralogy, chemistry, and biology.
Becoming a Dominican. Albert, the oldest son of the Count of Bollstadt, was born in 1206 in southern Germany. At the age of 16, while studying at the University of Pauda, he heard Blessed Jordan of Saxony's remarkable preaching and was drawn to join the friars. Albert never found his religious calling to conflict with the study of Aristotle and the natural sciences, since he viewed all nature as part of God's created order.
Scientist and Theologian. Albert taught at the universities of Cologne and Paris, where he continued in the dual role of scientist/theologian. Authoring 36 volumes on the natural sciences, Albert has been referred to as the "Father of the Natural Sciences." Pius XII proclaimed him the Patron of Students and Researchers of the Natural Sciences.
His expertise in theology was also recognized. In the late 1250's, he was appointed the pope's personal theologian and canonist. He also served a few years as Bishop of Regensburg at the request of Pope Alexander IV and then returned to teaching. In 1274, despite his failing health and shock over the death of his former student, Thomas Aquinas, Albert took part in the Council of Lyons, applying his influence to the reconciliation of Orthodox Catholics with the See of Peter.
Death and Canonization. St. Albert died at the age of 73. He was beatified in 1622. In 1931, Albert was canonized and named a Doctor of the Church by Pius XI.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
Feast Day: January 28
Doctor of the Church, Author of the Summa Theologica
Born to a noble family in 1224, Thomas Aquinas's life had a specific plan: he would study at the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, be ordained, and rise to a position of importance.
Joining the Friars. This plan started to change when the Benedictine abbot sent him to continue his studies at the University of Naples. There, he encountered the Dominican friars and soon took his vows. As he was on route to Rome, his mother insisted his brothers kidnap him, fearing he may have been too hasty in his decision. Thomas was confined at home for almost two years as the family tried to dissuade him from his chosen path. Their efforts were unsuccessful, however; Thomas convinced them he should, indeed, be a Dominican, and he was allowed to return to the friars.
The Summa Theologica. In 1245, the Dominican superiors sent Thomas to the university at Cologne to study under Albert the Great. He would himself become a great teacher, seeking truth and sharing his quest and conclusions with others. Exploring the theological and philosophical perspectives of his time, the arguments he framed in the Summa Theologica would prove to be foundational to Western society. Although we may not realize it, our worldview is grounded in Thomas's arguments.
The "Mixed Life." Among his many great insights, St. Thomas explored what he saw as a fundamental drive toward relationship—God seeking relationship with Creation and humans seeking relationship with God. As we strive to understand life at its deepest level and related to the divine, our love for God and neighbor deepens. This is the "mixed life," a life in which contemplation of God leads us to active love of brother and sister. This is the life Dominicans still follow today through liturgy, private prayer, study, community service, social justice activities, teaching, and preaching.
Death and Canonization. Thomas died on March 7, 1274. He was canonized on July 18, 1323, and was later declared Patron of all Catholic universities, colleges, and schools by Leo XIII (August 4, 1880).
St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
Feast Day: April 29
Mystic and Reformer
The 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa, Catherine of Siena was strikingly pleasant and strongly independent. This independence would be her hallmark.
Becoming Dominican. At age seven, Catherine announced she wanted to join the Dominicans. When her family later insisted she marry, she cut off her hair to make herself less appealing to potential suitors. Her father eventually relented and allowed her to join the Mantellate, women who, directed by a prioress, lived in their own homes, serving those who were poor and sick in their communities. Catherine based her life of service in prayer and contemplation. Over time, her vital connection to God became evident, drawing people to her and increasing her public influence.
Political Influence. Never one to be quiet when inspired to do God's work, Catherine became known for her skill in negotiating political conflict; she was influential in persuading Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon and encouraged him to make reforms within the Church. When dissension arose again after the election of Pope Urban VI, Catherine would both call the Pope to task in regard to his "extravagances" and defend the Roman papacy against its rival in Avignon. (See the Catholic Encyclopedia for more information.)
The Dialogue. Catherine's letters were striking, but perhaps best remembered out of her writings is The Dialogue. Her spiritual director called it "a dialogue between a soul who asks the Lord four questions, and the Lord himself who replies to the soul, enlightening her with many useful truths." It continues to enlighten readers today.
Death and Canonization. Catherine died on April 29th, 1380, at the age of 33. She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461.
St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617)
Feast Day: August 13
Patron Saint of Latin America and the Philippines
Born to Gaspar Florez and Mary Olivia, Spanish immigrants to the New World, St. Rose of Lima was originally baptized "Isabel." Her family soon began calling her "Rose" because of her remarkable beauty, and she officially took that name at her Confirmation.
Rose determined at an early age to dedicate her life to Christ Jesus. Her dedication would later lead her to denounce her own beauty and all the transient things of this world, since they could distract her from communion with the divine.
Joining the Dominicans. Rose joined the Dominicans at the age of twenty, as a member of the tertiary order. As such, she was not cloistered, but lived at home, praying, meditating, working in the family garden, and making embroidery items that were sold to assist her family, with any surplus earnings going to the poor of Lima. With the help of her brother, she built a small shelter in the back of her parent's property to allow for greater solitude; in time, she retired to that shelter exclusively.
A Life of Service and Prayer. Rose lived out her life, fasting, praying, and contributing to the welfare of her family and the poor of Lima through the sale of her embroidery. She practiced various self-imposed mortifications, severities adopted by some Christians as a form of purification, atonement, and imitation of Christ. She would later exhibit gifts of the mystic and visionary and would also bear invisible stigmata.
Death, Beatification and Canonization. Many miracles were reported following Rose's death in 1617. In 1667, she was beatified by Clement IX, and in 1671 was canonized by Clement X, making her the first American to attain and be recognized for this level of spiritual development.