Saint Dominic was born in Caleruega, Spain in 1170. His parents were members of the Spanish nobility and related to the ruling family.
According to one legend, his mother had a dream of a dog leaping from her womb with a torch in its mouth. The animal "seemed to set the earth on fire." His parents named him Dominic, a play on the words “Domini canis,” meaning “the Lord's dog” in Latin. An alternative, and possibly more likely story says he was named after St. Dominic de Silos, a Spanish monk who lived a century before.
Dominic was educated in Spain where he attended university for ten years, studying the arts and theology. Education and learning were centerpieces of his life, as were kindness and charity.
Dominic traveled widely and met people from every level of society. His strong belief in education was cemented in the early 13th century when he accompanied the Bishop of Osma on a diplomatic mission that crossed into the south of France. There they encountered the Cathars, a group of educated people who were yet heretics. His attempts to preach to them failed, but he came away from the experience having seen a successful model: learning faith through schooling.
He returned to the region later and established the first Catholic nunnery at Sainte Marie de Prouille, and the nuns later became known as the Sisters of Saint Dominic. He worked very hard in the following years to spread education about Christ. One well-recounted miracle associated with the story of Dominic occurred when he was in Fanjeaux, participating in a theological disputation or debate. His manuscripts and those of his adversaries were compared and various points highlighted. Someone suggested that the manuscripts of both sides be subjected to a 'trial by fire'. The manuscripts were cast into a fire, and Dominic's miraculously levitated from the flames three separate times, while the other manuscripts were consumed.
Afterward, Dominic petitioned the Pope for the right to establish a new religious order, the Dominican Friars, dedicated to preaching. Having others besides priests preach was a new idea at the time, and Dominic carried it farther by requesting that these new preachers be able to cross diocesan boundaries. His idea was to preach the Gospel to people wherever they needed it. He was known to travel by foot, often barefoot, living a very austere life wherever he roamed, but preaching with great fervor. The Dominican Friars have become renowned for their dedication to teaching as well as study of the Holy Scriptures. Their motto "To praise, to bless, to preach" sums up the core of Dominican beliefs, originating from their founder.
Dominic’s life, works, and death were marked by quiet piety and unceasing devotion to the hard work of spreading the Gospel during a turbulent time. He believed in education because an educated person could read the Bible and Dominic had no doubt would then make the informed decision to switch to Catholicism.
Pope Gregory IX canonized Dominic on July 13, 1234.
St. Dominic is commonly depicted in icons with a dog, or lilies, holding a book. His hair always appears cut with a tonsure.
St. Dominic’s feast day is celebrated on August 8th. He is the patron saint of astronomers, the Dominican Republic, and the innocent who are falsely accused of crimes.
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