Sanctuaries of Compassion: The Idea of Care in the Dominican Tradition

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”(Mt 11:28)
St. Martin de Porres, caring for my brother

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read “you are the light of the world . . . your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” ­­­­­­(Mt: 5:13-16).  In his book, St. Martin De Porres: In the Service of Compassion, Jacques Ambec, O.P. notes that St. Dominic envisioned his sons and daughters being formed in such a way so as to become those lights to the world. Through patience, gentleness, delicacy in prayer, in love, they were to be present to the sick as sanctuaries of compassion.[1] Today, we find ourselves surrounded by a culture of individualism and indifference, a culture that diminishes human life, depriving it of dignity, freedom, and its ability to flourish, as God intended. As healers of the sick and those in distress, we need to ask ourselves, how do we in turn, become those sanctuaries of compassion for our brothers and sisters, who are lost, dismissed as the least, or who find themselves unwanted or even unloved?

St. Dominic took the words he heard in St. Matthew’s gospel about becoming a light to the world, as words addressed directly to himself. As a result, in 1215, along with six companions, he formed his Order.  As he did, he was aware that the society around them was changing. As cities continued to grow denser because of their ability to fascinate and draw more and more people, St. Dominic realized their spiritual needs would need to be met in a way that was a radical departure from the practice of the day.

If we look into the very early days when St. Dominic formed his Order, we encounter a man who possessed the ability to see beyond immediate challenges, in order to perceive the beauty and dignity of the whole person.  His response to persons in distress was similarly appropriate.  As a consoler of the sick and those suffering, St. Dominic applied the same disciplined formula that he purposed for the formation of his earliest disciples, namely, to first listen, then to pray, to study, and then to preach the message of mercy, hope, and healing. In doing so, they would become authentic sanctuaries of compassion, for those seeking mercy, healing and hope. The Dominican Order, more than eight centuries later faithfully, embraces this same vision today.      

This example characterizes St. Dominic’s ability to synthesize the data of his pastoral experiences and Church teaching to formulate a healing intervention, whether it be caring for his brothers, the Nuns of the Order, the poor of the cities, non-believers, those who were far from the faith; especially the lost, the least, those who were unloved and unwanted. His charism captured the fire of evangelization and spread the Word of God across the world and through the great preachers of his Order: Albert the Great; Thomas Aquinas; Catherine of Siena; Rose of Lima; Margaret of Castello; James Salomoni; Martin De Porres; Juan Macias; Rose Hawthorne Lathrop; Pierre Claverie, and hundreds of martyrs who lost their lives, defending human dignity and freedom.

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Bro. Ignatius Perkins, OP, PhD, RN, Executive Director
The Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York
3 March 2017


[1] J. Ambec, “St. Martin De Porres, In the Service of Compassion” (Chicago, IL: The New Priory Press, 2015) 109.  



(05 March 2017)