Dominicans mark 800 years of preaching the Gospel

Order of Preachers in Miami celebrate jubilee year by teaching about St. Dominic of Guzman
Dominicans mark 800 years of preaching the Gospel

Compared to other saints of his time, such as St. Francis of Assisi or St. Anthony of Padua, people don’t know much about St. Dominic of Guzman. But they are very familiar with the order he founded: the Dominicans.

That is no accident, said Dominican Father Jose David Padilla, who spoke about the saint’s life during a conference organized by St. Dominic Parish in Miami. “Dominic himself did not want to be the focus; he wanted the order and the teachings to be the center of attention.”

At a moment when the Church needed help, St. Dominic did so in a humble and simple way, but in “a manner that was so concrete, so real and so good that 800 years later, even though no one knows St. Dominic, what he did continues to move forward,” Father Padilla said, referring to the Order of Preachers founded by the saint in 1216.

St. Dominic’s life is peppered with legends and stories, the priest noted. He was born in 1170 in the kingdom of Castile, Spain, and the first legend occurred before his birth. His mother, Juana de Aza, unaware that she was pregnant with him, had a dream, which was interpreted by Benedictine monks. They told her that the son she would bring into the world would carry the fire of God in his mouth and ignite the world with the word of God wherever he went.

At the age of 7, Dominic was sent to study with his uncle, Gonzalo de Aza, a priest. From him he received a basic education, including the catechism, etiquette, morals, and culture. At age 14, in Palencia, Dominic began studying theology, and after his ordination at age 25, he was named vicar of the Diocese of Osma.

On a trip to Denmark while accompanying Diego de Acebedo, the bishop of Osma, Dominic noticed how people had distanced themselves from Christianity. Additionally, southern France had begun to see the rise of the Albigenses, a cult. Dressed in white habits and walking barefoot, they preached their heresy in plain language, which contrasted with the Catholic bishops who preached in Latin that the commoners did not understand.

Upon seeing this, Diego and Dominic stayed in Languedo — modern day Cataluña — to preach in a simple language in hopes of bringing people back to the Church. There they also established the first community of the Order of Preachers, a monastery of Dominican nuns, in 1206.

Afterward, Diego and Dominic decided to teach priests how to preach in a simple manner. But Diego died, and a while later, in 1215, Dominic founded the first male community of the Order of Preachers in Tolosa. It was a new style of religious life: with monks living in the streets and priests living in monasteries. But it still lacked formal recognition.

At the time, Pope Innocent III, who supported Dominic in his journey, had just died, and the new pope, Honorius III, did not know him. The Fourth Lateran Council was underway and no new foundations of religious orders were permitted. Dominic’s order had the option of uniting with an already existing order, either adopting the monastic rules of St. Benedict, or the rules of St. Augustine, which were more flexible.

But that wasn’t what Dominic wanted for his order. Coincidentally, another legend arises, one that says Pope Honorius III dreamt that the Lateran basilica in Rome was falling and the beggars were the ones holding it up.

The next morning, the pope saw Francis of Assisi and Dominic arriving in Rome dressed in humble robes and he understood that they were the beggars who would save the Church. On Dec. 22, 1216, Pope Honorius III approved the foundation of the Order of Preachers and granted them the Basilica of St. Sabina in Rome.

After achieving recognition for the order, Dominic dispatched the friars to Spain, France, Germany and Italy, where they would settle in cities that were home to universities and establish communities, foster continued studies and attract young people.

In 1220, the first General Chapter (or meeting) of friars took place in Bologna, Italy. There, rules were established, including that the order would have no superiors but one brother, known today as the prior, would be chosen democratically to represent the community. All remaining decisions were to be made democratically. At the meeting, Dominic was chosen as the first representative and given the title of Master of the order.

On Aug. 6, 1221, Dominic died at the age of 51. The friars’ last words to their founder were: “Fulfill your promise and help us from heaven.”

St. Dominic asked to be buried at the feet of his friars in the meeting room in Bologna. In 1231, Pope Gregory IX canonized him.

St. Dominic’s greatest legacy is his preaching based on contemplation, studiousness and community life.

“Every person who is going to preach needs to have three fundamental aspects: first, they must know how to pray, for God is the fountain of wisdom. Secondly, they must be aware of new technologies because new knowledge comes from God. And third, they must learn to live in community,” said Father Padilla, who is also an adjunct professor of theology at Barry University in Miami Shores.

Father Padilla added that a fourth legacy is freedom. St. Dominic wanted his friars to preach anywhere and everywhere they were sent, without being subject to the local bishops. Pope Honorius III granted the friars permission to travel anywhere to preach.

At the same time, “St. Dominic never wanted preaching to be done in a particular way. He gave the order the freedom to preach in whatever form was necessary for the people of the day. The preachers of the future will preach in the style of the people of the future. And just as he stated at the end of his life, he wanted us to root ourselves in the Dominicans who came before us, so that we might learn from their wisdom,” Father Padilla said.

St. Dominic “taught me to love the rosary. That image that depicts him kneeling before the Virgin with St. Catherine of Siena standing next to him motivated me greatly to learn how to pray,” said Clemente Heredia, a parishioner at St. Dominic and a lay Dominican. “Before that, the rosary used to bore me. Now I pray it as a family with my wife.”

Heredia has been a lay Dominican since he lived in Cuba, where he was a parishioner at San Juan de Letran, a church run by the Dominican Order.

“Something that impressed me was when he sold his books to feed the poor; that is something worth praising,” said Lili Monteagudo, also a parishioner at St. Dominic.

For the 800th anniversary of the order, “different communities are doing different activities. We decided to have these kinds of conferences with Masses and vespers with the community, in the style of the Dominicans,” said Dominican Father Eduardo Logiste, pastor of St. Dominic.

Father Padilla’s, at the end of February, was the first conference.

“We are thinking of having one (conference) every month on different topics about the order, its history, its pillars, its charism, until November, when the jubilee year comes to a close,” said Father Logiste. The next conference will be taught by Father Jorge Presmanes, prior of the Dominican Order in Miami.

Since its creation, the Order of Preachers has extended all over the world. In the United States, the order is divided geographically into four provinces. The house in Miami, where eight friars live, belongs to the Dominican Province of St. Martin de Porres, whose headquarters is in New Orleans. The province extends to 11 southern states, from Texas and Oklahoma in the west to Tennessee and North Carolina in the east. 


(29 April 2016)