August marks the celebration of the Memorial of St. Dominic, who founded what is now known as the Dominican Order in 1214. A firm advocate for rational argumentation in drawing people to the faith, St. Dominic dedicated his Order to scholarship, preaching, and spiritual education. Over the past 800 years, the Dominicans have gained thousands of members across the globe and served the faithful through their rigorous intellectual tradition and Gospel-driven ministry. Today, we invite you to read the stories of five Dominican saints who have been influential in the history of the Church, and discover where they are portrayed in the Basilica.
1. St. Dominic
Born to a noble family in Caleruega, Spain, in 1170, St. Dominic set himself apart from his peers with his zeal for understanding the Scriptures and empathetic heart even as a boy. He displayed ascetic tendencies at an early age when he sold off his books to collect funds for the poor.
Once he was ordained a priest, St. Dominic embarked on a diplomatic mission to southern France with the goal of evangelizing unreached rural populations and combating the errant views of the Albigensians, who believed in equal twin forces of good and evil in the world, and associated all material substance with evil. As a result, they denied many critical doctrines including the resurrection of the body and the incarnation of Christ. St. Dominic preached to the Albigensians for years with few converts, as a war raged on between them and the Castilian government. However, one night, Dominic stayed at the house of an Albigensian leader, discussing matters of theology until the Albigensian was persuaded to Dominic’s view.
This encounter was formative in shaping St. Dominic’s philosophy of missions, convincing him that rational argumentation – and not threats of violence or declarations of dogma – was the proper path to persuading dissenters. It was upon this conviction that he based the Order of Preachers (now known as the Dominican Order) in 1214, committed to the conversion of unbelievers and the re-conversion of non-practicing Catholics, focusing on scholarship, preaching, and spiritual education. At the time of St. Dominic’s passing at age 52 in 1221, the Dominican order had already expanded to sixty friaries across the continents, from Palestine to Scandinavia.
2. St. Catherine of Siena
In 1347, Catherine was born to an Italian wool-dyer and cloth merchant. She grew up during a tumultuous era of fear, disease, and instability; while the Bubonic plague ailed the population without, corruption of the Church indicated a spiritual disease within. When Catherine was just 15, she became a lay Dominican. A withdrawn young lady, she decided against entering a convent. Her solitary lifestyle continued for three years, a period where she was inundated with mystical visions which were often disturbing. Sometimes inner voices whispered doubts in her mind, but when she laughed out loud one day, they vanished, and she saw Christ in their place.
She began to have these visions of Christ every day, and at age 20, she decided to forsake her life of hermitage and dedicated herself to serving others. Catherine became a champion for truth, writing her most popular books and sending letters to Church and government authorities during this time. Her work The Dialogue recounts her conversations with God, in an impactful, but at times, abstruse, text. Catherine was bold, unafraid to call out Church leaders for letting money influence appointments and making decisions from personal and political motivations.
Tragically, Catherine passed away when she was only 33. She is remembered for her boldness in confronting corruption, her defense of truth, and her unquenchable zeal for Christ.
3. St. Rose of Lima
Did you know that Rose of Lima was the first named saint in the Western hemisphere? Born as Isabel de flores to Spanish parents in 1586, she was extraordinarily beautiful even as an infant, earning her the name “Rose.” As she grew older, she only became more and more lovely, which was a great source of pride for her parents. After losing much of their fortune in mining speculation, her parents were eager to have their beautiful daughter snatched up by a rich suitor. But while countless young men sought Rose’s affections, she eschewed them for spiritual pursuits.
Despite her parents’ wishes, Rose took a vow of virginity and joined the third order of St. Dominic. At one point, she decided to move into a garden hut, where she dedicated herself to prayer and provided for her family through needlework and gardening. She also used a room in her family’s house to care for the ill and elderly, and soon attracted many visitors for the peace and respite she offered. The faithful flocked to Rose for advice, prayer, and healing, and some even credited her with saving Lima from earthquakes in the surrounding region. In her final years, Rose grew ill and lived under the care of a local official for three years until her death in 1617 at age 31. Today, St. Rose of Lima is known as the patron of all South America.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas
Born in northern Italy in 1225, Thomas Aquinas began religious training at a monastery school in Monte Casino at age five. When he was 13, Thomas began studying at the University of Naples, and joined a Dominican order –to his parents’ dismay. They had hoped their son would be part of a respected Benedictine order rather than subject himself to the poverty of the mendicant Dominicans. Determined to discourage Thomas from his Dominican ambitions, his brother kidnapped him and kept him captive in the family castle for over a year. But Thomas put this time to good use, his unquenchable intellectual curiosity inspiring him to study the work of Aristotle and Peter Lombard, as well as memorize Scripture.
Realizing that Thomas would not be deterred, his parents finally released him, and he rejoined the Dominican Order of Preachers. After studying at the University of Cologne and receiving his doctorate from the University of Paris, where he held the chair of theology, he led a prolific career writing, teaching, and preaching.
In 1266, Thomas began writing Summa Theologiae, his magnum opus. The first systematic treatment of Catholic doctrine, the work demonstrated the coherent logic of Christian thinking, making arguments from reason to prove spiritual truths such as the existence and characteristics of God. Though he ultimately chose to leave the work unfinished, today Summa remains a pillar of the Western Canon.
5. St. Martin de Porres
Martin de Porres was born out of wedlock in Lima in 1569, to a Spanish man and a formerly enslaved Peruvian woman. Though his father enjoyed a position of power as governor, he sought to distance himself from his mixed-race son and left his mother to raise him. When he was just 12, Martin began training to be a barber – a profession which, at the time, entailed surgical procedures such as tooth pulling and bloodletting in addition to cosmetic services! About three years later, Martin joined a Dominican monastery where he initially served as janitor but was soon reassigned after his other skills were noticed. He became an invaluable medical assistant, serving as head of the infirmary and distinguishing himself with his knack for healing and use of herbal remedies.
Not only did Martin found an orphanage and a hospital for abandoned infants, but his medical services expanded to the streets of Lima, where he would pick up ailing vagabonds and bring them back to his own room to nurse them back to health. Being of African heritage himself, he also had a particular compassion for enslaved people, often fulfilling the basic needs their overseers neglected.
Throughout all his endeavors, Martin demonstrated the utmost love and charity, and became a lay brother of the Dominicans at the suggestion of his superiors. In addition to his work in hospitals and social justice, he also started an animal shelter at his sister’s house to care for cats and dogs. He passed away at age 60 on November 3, 1639, and was canonized in 1962.
Dominican Rosary Pilgrimage – September 30
Did you know that a Dominican Rosary Pilgrimage is happening at the Basilica this fall? On Saturday, September 30, 2023, Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph and the local charters of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary will host a National Rosary Pilgrimage to the National Shrine.
Butler’s Lives of the Saints (ed. by Bernard Bangley)
Cowan’s The Way of Saints
“St. Martin de Porres,” University of Notre Dame