Saint Dominic Guzman was a younger son of a noble Spanish family. He became an Augustinian priest in the Cathedral of Osma in Spain and would have lived an ordinary life except for a trip he took with his bishop, Diego. They were on a diplomatic mission for a Duke in 1206 and as they traveled through the south of France, they saw how the people there had begun to follow dualistic and heretical teachings of the itinerant Albigensian preachers.
In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the laity received little or no instruction from the clergy. The latter were held to be corrupt. There was hunger for religious teaching and a group of teachers arose who claimed to imitate the poverty of Christ. These were the Albigensians (from the town of Albi where they started out). Bishops and priests never accepted these teachers and, lacking an anchor in the Church, they drifted into heretical teachings such as that the material world is evil and opposed to the Spirit and therefore cannot be from God.
Dominic and his bishop saw that the need was great and began their mission among these people by imitating the extreme poverty of the heretical preachers and living among the people in towns and villages. Their work attracted followers who joined them as they preached that all things, ever material things, are good because they are created by God.
Dominic worked in relative obscurity from 1206 to 1215 at which time the Pope officially recognized his group as the Order of Friars Preacher. Dominic then sent his brothers to universities to give them a firm foundation in theology on which to base their preaching.
Dominic is pictured here receiving the rosary form the Blessed Mother. The legend is that during a time of great discouragement, the Blessed Mother appeared to him and encouraged him to teach people to pray the rosary. There is evidence that the rosary pre-dated Dominic but it was begun first as a method of prayer for those who could not pray the psalms with the monks and nuns. His feast is on August 8th.
Standing in back of Dominic, on the left is St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) who was the 23rd and youngest child in her family, a successful merchant family in Italy. In her short lifetime (33 years) she wrote 400 letters. As a very young woman (in her teens) Catherine did not wish to enter into an arranged marriage and was able to convince her parents to honor her request. She took on the duties of a maid within her own home willingly and become a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic who lived their religious lives in home settings. As a Dominican, Catherine visited prisoners and cared for the sick. She developed a reputation for wisdom and was called upon by many people for guidance. The Church was badly divided at the time and Catherine wrote countless letters to leaders and urged the Pope (who at the time was residing in France) to return to Rome and restore peace to the Church. The stress of this situation affected Catherine’s health; and she suffered strokes and died at the age of 33.
St. Catherine is a great example for all who seek to make some kind of peace within a divided Church. A contemplative woman, she mediated reconciliation between many people and was a great teacher of prayer. So great was her spiritual teaching that she was named a Doctor of the church. Her feast is on April 29.