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Born in the rugged mountain range of Caleruega, Spain around 1170, Dominic de Guzmán was marked for a life of service to God, even before he was born,  as we know from the often told story of his mother’s dream of giving birth to a dog with a burning torch in his mouth. In her dream, the dog leaped from her womb seeming to set the whole earth on fire signifying that her child would become a eminent preacher. Gifted intellectually, Dominic’s love of study began in 1184 at Palencia University where he studied theology and was ordained to the priesthood. Dominic’s life can be divided into two parts: his ecclesiastical career (1194–1215), and his years dedicated to shaping the fledgling group that would become the Order of Preachers (1215–1221).

As a young priest, the problems of the Christian world charted Dominic’s future for had the Church not been plagued with groups of heretics, including the Albigensians, Dominic’s life would surely have taken a different direction. While accompanying Bishop Diego de Acebo of Osma on trip to Denmark, they stopped in Toulouse and Dominic had a encounter with the Albigensian innkeeper at his lodge. Dominic argued with the man all night, and by morning had persuaded him to return to the church. His burning desire for the salvation of souls through the preaching of the Word of God,

manifest in that experience, continued throughout his life. For the next twelve years, Dominic traveled throughout France, Italy and Spain, preaching the Gospel, converting heretics, hearing confessions, and providing pastoral care to God’s people. He lived a monk’s life, dedicated to prayer and extreme asceticism. Eventually a few men joined Dominic in his wanderings and it was during this time that the idea of a new religious order was born. It is fair to say that Dominic did not set out to become a founder of a religious order, but rather to respond to the urgent need for a new type of evangelization within the existing Church and culture. His response was radical, in that it called for a new model of religious life that moved from monastic enclosure to the urban world that was developing in medieval Europe.


Dominic lived only six years after Pope Honorius granted a bull of appropriation for the founding of the Friar Preachers in 1216. During this last period of his life, he did, indeed, take on the role of founder, albeit, a humble one, satisfied to be a peer to his brothers.  He taught the brothers how to live by the Rule, started and supported the development of women’s congregations, sought vocations, all the while making quick decisions that were radical and creative, as he sent young men to universities around Europe to study in preparation for ministry, and out in pairs to preach the Word of God. His personal resources included one patched tunic, his virtue, strong organizational skills, and a kind of confidence that can only be understood in the context of his deep, abiding, zealous love of God, the Church and humanity.


During these six years, he was so effective that when he died on August 6, 1222 at the age of 51, he had organized a religious order that already had men and women thinking and living as Dominicans, although the term “Dominicans” would not come into use until about two hundred years later. He was buried in Bologna in a humble underground crypt where he remained until the transference of his body to new tomb in 1223. His was canonized by Gregory IX on July 3, 1234, the first of many hundreds of members of the Order of Preachers to be canonized in the eight hundred centuries that would follow his death.


For further reading on the life of St. Dominic de Guzmán, download the PDF at right: The Life of St. Dominic by Father Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, OP (1883).

Other recommended biographies are, in no particular order:

The Life of Saint Dominic by Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP (available at this link)

Saint Dominic by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, OP (available at this link)

St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar by Fr. Donald J. Goergen, OP (available at this link)

The Life of St. Dominic by Mother Augusta Theodosia Drane, OP (available at this link)

Text and image on this page courtesy of the Province of St. Martin de Porres

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