There was a Saint who drew all men to him by the charm of his courteous manner, and by his tenderness for suffering in others; one who hated sin yet loved sinners, spending his life and strength in preaching the word of God; and this was Dominic Gusman, the founder of the order of Friars Preachers, who was born in Spain during the year 1170. His was a saintly family, so that from his cradle he was trained to holiness by his mother, who before his birth had received a strange vision which foretold the future greatness of her son. At seven years of age he was put under tHe care of his uncle, who was a priest, and the little Dominic grew up close to the altar, loving nothing so well as his prayers and hymns and the serving holy Mass.
At fourteen he was sent to the University of Palencia, and while he remained there, he was not only diligent in study, but also distinguished by the purity of hi3 life. It seemed as if no worldly matter could give him pleasure, because his heart was quite set upon spiritual things, and though but a boy, those who spoke to him always felt the better for his words, which were full of the love of God. At the commencement of his college days, Dominic made a rule to abstain entirely from wine, and during the ten years he stayed at Palencia, no example or persuasion led him to be unfaithful in this point.
Very little is known of the Saint during the first twenty years of his life, excepting one or two examples of his tender, unselfish nature. A dreadful famine prevailed in Spain, during which Dominic not only sold all his clothing to get food for the poor, but even parted with his precious books, so that he might give more to the starving people whose misery touched his heart. “Would you have me study those parchments when men are dying with hunger?” he said to one who was surprised at this act and then the others were roused to try also to assist in the pressing need of those around them.
Again we find Dominic offering himself to be sold as a ransom for the son of a poor woman who had been captured by the Moors, which shows us his generous character, although his proposal was not allowed to be carried out.
At twenty-five years old Dominic became a priest,receiving the habit of the Canons Regular at Osma. For nine years he stayed there, giving himself continually to prayer – his one petition that he might receive the gift of true charity, and he determined, so soon as it was possible, to found an Order on purpose to preach the faith.
The state of the Church was most unhappy just at that period; heathens were fighting against Christians, and heresy was making itself known, and during a journey to Denmark, Dominic and his companion, Diego, saw so much work to be done for God in the world, that their hearts burned within them to become true apostles for the faith. On their homeward road they rested at Montpellier, just at a time when an assembly of Catholics had met there to think and pray over the best means of checking the heresy which was springing up everywhere, and Dominic and Diego were invited to join them in their meetings. Diego asked many questions, and found that the heretics got their power over men by their preaching and persuasive manners, and a great outward show of poverty and austerity. Then the Holy Spirit of God inspired him, and he proposed that all the priests should dismiss their attendants and horses, and keeping no appearance of worldly power, go as simple missionaries amongst the people. They agreed, and Diego was made the head of the little company, who went about on foot through the towns and villages, trusting to God to provide for their daily wants, while they taught and preached as they journeyed.
At first Dominic was little thought of, for he had only taken the part of a subject, but his usefulness was found out in the disputes with the heretics, and he persuaded so many to return to the Church that those who still kept to their errors hated him as their worst enemy, even plotting to take his life. Finding that Catholic children were exposed to the danger of being educated by those who had forsaken their faith, Dominic resolved to find some way of preventing this, and choosing a small village at the foot of the Pyrenees, called Prouille, he founded a house, where, under the care of a few pious women, these children could be trained in the knowledge and love of God. This was the beginning of an Order which was to flourish all over the world in later times, but then it had only nine or ten members, who had been converted by the preaching of Dominic. They wore a white habit and dark mantle, and besides giving a certain time to educating the children, they were to spend some hours in spinning and other work.
After this time Diego returned to Spain, to visit his own church and people, but his promise of returning to labour in France was never fulfilled, for he died in his own country, so that Dominic lost his friend and companion. The missioners dispersed, one to one country, another to another, but Dominic remained at the post where God had placed him, although he was alone. During ten years he preached the faith in the different provinces of France, with very few to help him, bearing for the sake of Christ countless sufferings and sorrows, working miracles amongst the people for whom he laboured, and winning many hearts to the love of God.
But often-times the inhabitants of those places where he stayed, turned against him and threatened his life; still oftener they shouted after him as he passed bare-footed along their streets, throwing dirt at him, and tying straws to his coat and hat, and through all this Dominic went cheerfully about, rejoicing that he was allowed to follow in the footsteps of his Master.
Once the Saint had come to the bank of the river Garonne, when about forty English pilgrims arrived on their way to the shrine of Saint James of Compostella. They took a boat to cross to the other side, but being small it sank with them to the bottom of the river. Dominic was praying at the time in a small church near, and being alarmed by the cries of the sinking crew, he left his devotions, but when he came to the bank of the river not one of the pilgrims could be seen.
Full of faith in the power of God, the holy man knelt in prayer, then rising up, cried:
“I command you in the Name of Christ to come alive and unhurt to the shore.”
Immediately the bodies rose to the surface of the water, and safely reached the bank, praising and thanking God and Saint Dominic.
Many miracles of a similar kind were worked by the Saint, which began to be known and spoken of amongst the people, and helped on the attention which was given to his preaching; but it was his singular holiness of life, his austere rule – and yet his constant cheerfulness – which gained him the most influence over the hearts of others.
And yet, in spite of all his labour, Dominic was not succeeding as he desired, so he began to entreat the help of the Blessed Mother of God, that it might be told him in what way he could best destroy the heresy of the people.
Mary herself appeared to her faithful client, and told him to teach the devotion of the Rosary, so Dominic took his stand at the market-place or in the principal streets, drawing men, women, and little children to listen as he put before them this beautiful way of prayer, explaining each mystery in a plain and simple manner. However, for some time Dominic’s work was hindered by the wars which prevailed, but afterwards two rich townsmen of Toulouse gave him a house, where others came to join him in his way of life, and the number gradually increased, keeping a rule of religious discipline.
The Saint travelled to Rome to obtain the Pope’s protection for his little community, and while staying there, he had a vision, in which he saw two men whom the Blessed Virgin was offering to God to stay His anger against the sins of the world. One of the men he saw to be himself, but the other was not known to him; yet the very next morning when he was in the church praying, he saw the stranger of his vision dressed like a beggar, and running to him, Dominic embraced him with tears of joy, asking him to be his friend and join with him in labouring for God. From that time Saint Francis (for he it was) and Saint Dominic had a warm attachment to each other, and each in his own path fulfilled the work assigned to him by God, whilst love to the Lord Jesus Christ bound their hearts together.
When Dominic returned to France he continued to teach and preach in the world. His community was growing quickly, and he ruled them well, sending them out in their turn as apostles amongst men. God was pleased to give many signs of the favour He had towards His servant, by supernatural favours and miracles. Once when some men were engaged at work at the convent, a mason was buried by a mass of earth falling on him, but Saint Dominic ordered him to be dug out whilst he prayed, and when the rubbish was removed, the man rose alive and perfectly unhurt. Not long afterwards, a widow lady went to the church to hear the Saint preach, leaving her only son seriously ill, and on her return home he was dead. Bidding her servants carry after her the lifeless body, she went to Dominic, knelt at his feet, and in silence laid her dead son before him. Her sobs touched the compassionate heart of the holy man. For a few moments he turned aside and ‘prayed, then coming back he made the sign of the cross over the boy, took him by the hand, and gave him back to his mother alive and well.
The story spread quickly, and Dominic was so pained by the public honour he received, that he would have flown from France had not the Pope commanded him to remain. Many such incidents might be told, but there is one without naming which no life of this Saint would be complete. The friars were about a hundred in number when, on a certain day, the holy Dominic bid two of the brothers go into the city to beg. They obeyed, but received nothing for some hours, so that they returned to the convent, and were nearly there when they met a woman who reverenced the Order very much, and in her pity, because they had taken nothing, she gave them one loaf. As they went on their way they met a man who begged hard of them and persisted, in spite of their excuses; then they said to each other, “We will give him our loaf for the love of God.” He immediately disappeared, and they came to the convent where Dominic (to whom God had revealed all) met them and said, with a joyous air, “My sons, have you nothing?” They told him what had happened, and how they gave their only loaf to a poor beggar.
“It was an angel of God,” said the Saint. “The Lord will provide for us; we will go and pray.” Then he entered the church for a little time, coming out to bid the brothers call the rest to the refectory.
“But, father, why should we call them when there is nothing to eat?” and they delayed assembling the community.
Then the holy father commanded once more that all should repair to dinner; he gave the benediction, and one of the brothers began to read. Meantime Dominic joined his hands on the table, remaining in prayer, and suddenly two young men appeared in the middle of the refectory, carrying; loaves in two white cloths which hung from their shoulders before and behind, and they began to distribute the bread> beginning at the lower rows, placing a loaf before each brother. When they had reached the Blessed Dominic and placed a loaf before him, they bowed and disappeared without any one knowing how they went.
The Saint then said: “My sons, eat the bread which the Lord has sent you.” And bidding those who served go to the empty vessel which was used for wine, they found it miraculously filled up to the brim.
They ate and drank as much as they needed for that and the two next days, and then Dominic ordered what remained to be distributed amongst the poor, and gave the brothers a beautiful address, bidding them never to mistrust the power of God, however great might be their want.
Everything about the Saint showed how he loved poverty – his habit, his girdle, and all that he wore. He would not have any cell of his own, but slept in the church, leaning against the altar-steps or lying on the stones. His penances were severe – many for himself, many for obstinate sinners, many for the souls in purgatory – and his prayer was constant, for there was no place or time in which he did not turn his heart and mind to God.
Time passed on, and this holy, useful life was drawing to a close. He would say to his brothers: “You see me now in health, but before the next Feast of the Assumption I shall be with God but he did not lessen his labours, for after he received an intimation from Heaven that his end was near, he started from Bologna upon his last mission. When he returned, there was a great change in him, and the excessive heat tried him much, yet his zeal appeared to increase, as if he desired his Lord to find him at work when his summons came. It was the 6th of August when he re-entered his convent on foot, and going to the church, spent his usual time in prayer; but at its conclusion he was so evidently ill that he desired to be laid on a sacking stretched upon the ground, and had the novices called round him that he might speak to them. His friars were in the deepest sorrow, and begged him to pray for them. The dying Saint said in a clear voice, with his eyes raised to heaven:
“Holy Father, I commend those whom Thou hast given me to Thee. Do Thou keep them, do Thou preserve them.”
He then insisted upon being laid on ashes on the floor, and all the brethren being assembled, he gave them his [last counsels, and begging them above all to have charity, to preserve humility, and make poverty their possession, he stretched out his arms towards heaven and died, being nearly fifty-one years of age.
Thus ended the life which had been devoted to the work of God with so much courage and generosity; and the divine blessing which Dominic asked for his children when he lay upon his death-bed, has followed them in all times and places, for the once small company has become the great teaching Order of the Church, treading in the footsteps of their holy founder, and striving to maintain the spirit of charity, poverty, and humility which burned so brightly in him.
– from , by Mary F Seymour