Domenico was born in 1170 in Caleruega, a mountain village of Old Castile (Spain) by Felice di Gusmán and Giovanna d’Aza.
At 15 he moved to Palencia to attend regular courses (liberal arts and theology) in the famous schools of that city. Here he comes into contact with the miseries caused by constant wars and famine: many people starve and nobody moves! Then he sells the furnishings of his room and the precious scrolls to form a fund for the poor. To those who express amazement for that gesture, he replies: “How can I study on dead skin, while many of my brothers are starving?”
After completing his studies, at 24, the young man, following the call of the Lord, enters the “regular canons” of the cathedral of Osma, where he is consecrated a priest. In 1203 Diego, bishop of Osma, having to carry out a delicate diplomatic mission in Denmark on behalf of Alfonso VIII, king of Castile, chose Domenico as his companion.
The living contact with the populations of southern France at the mercy of the Cathar heretics, and the enthusiasm of Nordic Christianity for the great missionary undertakings towards the East, are a revelation for Diego and Domenico: they too will be missionaries. Returning from a second trip to Denmark, they go down to Rome (1206) and ask the pope to be able to devote himself to the evangelization of the pagans.
But Innocent III directs their missionary zeal towards that preaching in Albigese (France) which he ardently and authoritatively promoted since 1203. Dominic accepts the new delivery and will remain heroically in the breach even when the Papal Legation dissolves, and the sudden death Diego (30 December 1207) will leave him alone. Public and exhausting debates, personal interviews, negotiations, preaching, persuasion, prayer and penance occupy these years of intense activity; so until 1215 when Folco, bishop of Toulouse, who in 1206 granted him S. Maria di Prouille to gather women who abandoned heresy and to make it a center of preaching, appointed him preacher of his diocese.
Meanwhile, some friends gather around Dominic who is developing a daring plan: to give preaching a stable and organized form. Together Folco went to Rome in October 1215 to participate in the Lateran Council IV and also to submit his project to Innocent III who approved it. The following year, December 22nd, Honorius III will give official and definitive approval. And his Order will be called “Order of the Preaching Friars”.
On 15 August 1217 the holy Founder disseminated his children in Europe, sending them mainly to Paris and Bologna, the main university centers of the time. Then with a wonderful and surprising activity he lavishes all energies on the diffusion of his work. In 1220 and 1221 he presided over the first two General Chapters in Bologna intended to draw up the “magna carta” and to clarify the fundamental elements of the Order: preaching, study, poverty, beggar, common life, legislation, geographical distribution, mission expeditions.
Exhausted from his apostolic work and exhausted by the great penances, on 6 August 1221 he died surrounded by his friars, in his beloved convent in Bologna, in a cell not his own, because he, the Founder, did not have it. Gregory IX, linked to him by a deep friendship, will canonize him on 3 July 1234. His body from 5 June 1267 is kept in a precious marble Ark. The numerous miracles and the continuous graces obtained for the intercession of the Saint make rush faithful from all over Italy and Europe to his sepulcher, while the people of Bologna proclaim him “Patron and perpetual defender of the city”.
The spiritual physiognomy of San Domenico is unmistakable; he himself, in the hard years of the apostolate in the south of France, had defined himself as “humble minister of preaching”. In the long nights spent in church in prayer and from the filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (who, according to tradition, gave him and his spiritual children the prayer of the Holy Rosary) he had known the Mercy of God and “at what price we were redeemed ”in Christ; for this reason he will try to witness the love of the Father before his brothers: the oldest biographies report that he used to “speak either with God or with God”. To this end, he founded an Order that aims to save souls by means of a preaching that comes from contemplation: “contemplata aliis tradere” (that is, communicating to others what is contemplated, the fruit of one’s contemplation) will be the happy formula with to which St. Thomas Aquinas will express Domenico’s intuition and the ever young and current charisma of his Order. For this reason Dominican life is based on prayer, study, liturgical and common life, on evangelical poverty, for the purpose of preaching to every man and woman of our time of the Good News that Christ came to bring among us so that we could do with it. “Radiators” with each brother.
Daring and prudent, resolute but respectful of others’ judgment, brilliant in his initiatives and obedient to the directives of the Church, Dominic is the apostle who knows no compromises or rigidities: according to the famous expression of Father Lacordaire (great French Dominican of the late 1800s) for his children he is a father “tender as a mother, strong as a diamond”.
Finally, on his deathbed, he promises his spiritual children to help them more from Heaven than he had been on earth…. So we just have to experience it, confidently and filially resorting to his fatherly intercession for all of us who refer, each according to his own state of life, to his spiritual experience.
The intercession and blessing of the Holy Father Dominic illuminate and support our journey and build our communities more and more in fraternity, in Charity, in benevolence, in the joy of forgiveness and mutual love, and really make us “One heart and one soul”!
by Fra Roberto M. Viglino o.p.