Saint Dominic (1170 – 1221) was born in Calaruega, Spain to parents of the lower nobility. He received his elementary education from an uncle who was an archpriest at a nearby town. At the age of fourteen, St Dominic entered the University of Palencia where he remained for ten years studying for the priesthood. During this time, when a famine occurred in the region, he sold all he had including his books and furniture and gave the money to the poor. A contemporary of his wrote that also at this time twice he tried to sell himself into slavery to obtain money for the ransom of Christians who were held in captivity by the Moors.
In 1203, a few years after having been ordained a priest, St Dominic was told to accompany a bishop on a diplomatic journey to Denmark. Their itinerary took them through the southern part of France, where at the time the Albigensian heresy was in full swing. This heresy taught the all matter was evil and created by an evil being while all spiritual matter was good and created by a good being. Suicide and death were commendable as they freed one from matter. Its followers divided themselves into two groups: the perfect and the believers. The perfect practiced severe austerity, abstaining from food and leading celibate lives. The believers were those who believed the teachings but could not lead such austere lives. The latter had great respect and admiration for the perfect.
The Church sent preachers to the Albigensian but with no success. Saint Dominic observed that these preachers came in great pomp, mounted on beautiful horses and accompanied by servants, and realized that the perfect, with their austere lifestyle, were more attractive to the common men than were the worldly Catholic preachers. He then resolved to work for the conversion of these people and spent the next ten years among them, as an itinerant preacher, walking from town to town, dressed in simple clothes and accompanied only by fellow preachers.
In 1215 he gathered six of his followers and with the help of the Bishop of Toulouse founded what was to become the Order of Friar Preachers, also known as Dominicans. The mission of the Friar Preachers was the propagation of true doctrine and good morals, and the extirpation of heresy. The Order was granted approval by Pope Honorius III one year later.
St Dominic is known to once have brought back to life, through his prayer, a young man who had been thrown from his horse and killed. Blessed John of Saxony wrote of him: “Nothing disturbed the even temper of his soul except for his quick sympathy with every sort of suffering. And as a man’s face shows whether his heart is happy or not, it was easy to see from his friendly and joyous countenance that he was at peace inwardly.” And Blessed Cecilia Caesarini described him as thin, of middle height, with a handsome face, blue eyes and a full head of red hair though he wore a tonsure. Saint Dominic died at the age fifty-one, in 1221, surrounded by his brethren.