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Dominican Saints 101: St. Zdislava

St. Zdislava Berka (c. 1220-1252, feast – Jan. 4) was a wife, mother, and one of the earliest lay Dominicans. Being raised by a faithful mother, she too was devout from a young age and even tried to run away to become a hermit at the age of seven. As she grew, she matured through a life of prayer and generosity, and it is because of this that she is mainly remembered in the Czech Republic.

At a young age, St. Zdislava was married to Havel, Count of Lemberk. He was a good man, but he tested Zdislava’s patience by asking her to dress in a worldly manner and join in his somewhat indulgent feasts. For her part, she too tested his patience, but this with regard to her generosity to the poor. She provided generously for the poor, even working as a nurse tending to them. It is said that one night when Havel went off to bed, he discovered it was missing.  Zdislava had given the bed to a poor man, leaving only the crucifix in place of the bed. This changed his heart, and he began to support her charitable work.

750th anniversay Czech coin

750th anniversay Czech coin

The support from her husband led St. Zdislava to found two Dominican priories in what is now the Czech Republic. During her childhood, she had gone with her mother to serve Queen Kunegunda, who probably first exposed her to the Dominicans. It is possible that Zdislava met St. Hyacinth and Bl. Ceslaus, and she eventually became a lay Dominican. She continued to live a devout life, receiving Holy Communion nearly every day (which was an extremely rare practice in the beginning of the 13th century).  She also had visions and worked many miracles (including raising someone from the dead).

St. Zdislava is a wonderful example of faith, perseverance, and sanctity in the secular world. Through her intercession, may God raise up many saintly lay men and women.

O God, the exaltation of the lowly, who willed that blessed Zdislava should excel in the beauty of her charity and patience, grant, through her merits and intercession, that, carrying our cross each day, we may always persevere in love for you. Through Christ our Lord.


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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Sebastian Maggi

Bl. Sebastian Maggi (ca. 1414-1496, feast – Dec. 16) is possibly best known for his connection to Girolamo Savonarola.  Bl. Sebastian was his confessor and had such great faith in Savonarola that he even appointed him Novice Master when Savonarola was only 29 and had only completed his own novitiate seven years earlier.

Unfortunately, when Bl. Sebastian is known in in this regard, sight of his heroic virtues can be lost.  He was known, just like Holy Father Dominic, to be severe on himself but merciful to his brethren.  He took on great mortifications, even from his earliest days in the Order, and when he was prior in Lodi, he had the brethren beg their daily food.   He was extremely faithful to attending choir and the common meals.

Moreover, with regard to mercy, he was known to say:

When you have committed a fault, come to me, not as Prior, but as your father.  If you will not have me as a father, you will find me a severe judge.

Because of his great mercy, he was even known to try and conceal the faults of his brethren when they came to him of their own accord and admitted their guilt.  This is surely a sign of sanctity in someone who was also known to keep the rule very strictly himself, which Bl. Sebastian was known to do.

May he be an example of fidelity to our state in life and mercy when we or others fall on the path to holiness.

O God, who made blessed Sebastian, thy confessor, wonderful for his singular zeal in the practice of regular discipline and evangelical perfection, mercifully grant that, following his example, we may be mortified in the flesh and quickened in the spirit, and so attain to everlasting rewards.  Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: St. Ignatius Delgado and Companions

St. Ignatius Delgado

The Vatican has estimated that there were between 130,000 and 300,000 Vietnamese Martyrs between the 15th and 20th centuries. Whether it was during the Church’s original missionary attempts or during the various political persecutions, numerous martyrs watered the soil of faith in Vietnam with their blood. In 1988, Bl. John Paul II  canonized 117 martyrs who could be named.  This included a large number of Dominicans bishops, priests, and Third Order members, as well as members of the Confraternity of the Rosary.  St. Ignatius Delgado (1761-1838), St. Francis Gil (1702-1745), St. Vincent Liem (1731-1773), St. Hyacinth Castaneda (1743-1773), St. Dominic Henares (1764-1838), and St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa (1827-1861) (feast – Nov. 24) are some of the noble examples of faithfulness to the Christ during these persecutions.

It is thought that the Vietnamese martyrs suffered some of the most gruesome deaths in the history of the Church. Three of those who were given a more modest death would be St. Ignatius Delgado, St. Hyacinth Castaneda, and St. Vincent Liem. After being captured, St. Ignatius was locked in a cage and put on display for public mockery. The local mandarin had planned to decapitate him, but St. Ignatius died of dysentery before they could actually behead him. As a result, they desecrated his body by beheading him and throwing his corpse into a river.

Martyrdom of St. Hyacinth Castaneda (Valencia Cathedral)

St. Hyacinth Castaneda entered the Order in Spain and asked to be sent to the farthest reaches of the East. He was then sent to the Philippines where he began his missionary work. He then labored in China until he was eventually deported to Vietnam. After continuing his work of evangelization there, he was arrested and imprisoned for three years. There he spent time with St. Vincent Liem, the first native of Vietnam to be martyred, who had also been put in a cage after being arrested. Unlike St. Ignatius, though, St. Vincent Liem had been let out of the cage so that he could be brought before the emperor to debate with a Buddhist, a Confucian, and a Taoist. Even though he clearly showed the Christian religion to be the most wise, he was eventually beheaded along with St. Hyacinth.

Through their witness, the Vietnamese martyrs give great examples of fidelity to the Lord and to the Truth in times of persecution. May their intercession likewise aid us to defend the Truth in difficult times.

O God, you willed the lands of Vietnam to be moistened by the blood of the blessed bishops Ignatius and Dominic, and their companions; through the pleadings of these great martyrs let it continue to blossom with the Christian religion.  Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Terence O’Brien and Bl. Peter O’Higgins

In 1992, Bl. John Paul II beatified 17 Irish martyrs, two of whom were Dominicans: Bl. Terence Albert O’Brien (1600-1651) and Bl. Peter O’Higgins (c. 1602-1642) (feast – Oct. 30). Both gave tremendous witness to the true faith, and neither were willing to compromise for anything less.

Bl. Peter O’Higgins (also known as Peter Higgins), was sent to refound the Dominican community in Naas. He was truly a man of God, even stopping the attempted execution of an Anglican minister by Catholics. When his town was taken by the English forces, he willingly surrendered himself since he was innocent of all crimes. He was then found guilty of not accepting the English King as the head of the Church and martyred.

Bl. Terence O’Brien, Provincial of the Irish Province at the time, recounted the martyrdom to the General Chapter in 1644. Bl. Peter had been offered the chance to keep his life if he simply renounced his Catholic faith. He asked that the terms be written down and brought to him at the gallows where he was to be hanged. On the day of his martyrdom, the conditions for his life were presented to him, and he stated:

So here the condition on which I am granted my life. They want me to deny my religion. I spurn their offer. I die a Catholic and a Dominican priest. I forgive from my heart all who have conspired to bring about my death.

Bl. Terence Albert, only a few years later, was also offered the chance to give his life in imitation of Christ crucified. In refusing to accept the English crown’s authority over the Church and all that went with it, he remained faithful to Rome while supporting the Catholics in Limerick. He too was offered the chance to renounce the faith after his arrest. He too denied that chance to deny the truths of the faith. The Acts of the General Chapter in 1656 stated that, “he went with joy to the place of execution and there with a serene countenance, turning to his Catholic friends, who stood in the crowd inconsolable and weeping.” Once he arrived at the gallows, he gave his own final testament and prayer. Here, he stated:

Jesus despised the shame for me upon the Cross, and God forbid but I should despise the shame for him upon the Gallows….I am not in love with this passage through the Red Sea, for I have the weakness and infirmity of flesh and blood in me, and I have prayed as my Savior taught me, and exampled me: ut transiret calix ista, that this cup might pass away from me; but since it is not, that my will may, his will be done; I shall most willingly drink of it as deep as he pleases, and enter into this Sea, and I pass through it, in the way that he shall be pleased to lead me.

May their witness be a support for us in times of persecution, and may the Lord bestow on us the same fidelity to truth.

We humbly beseech the mercy of your majesty, almighty and merciful God, that, as you have poured the knowledge of your Only Begotten Son into the hearts of the peoples by the preaching of the blessed Martyrs Terence Albert O’Brien and Peter O’Higgins, so, through their intercession, we may be made steadfast in the faith.  Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: Our Lady of the Rosary

Our Lady of the Rosary (feast day – Oct. 7) dates back to 1571 when Pope St. Pius V (a Dominican Pope) instituted the feast, under the title of “Our Lady of Victory,” in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s answer to the prayers of all the Christian nations who had been praying the Rosary so that the Christian forces would be victorious over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571.  In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title to the “Feast of the Holy Rosary,” by which it is now known.

Aside from the connection with the Dominican Pope who instituted the feast and the more commonly known tradition that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave St. Dominic the Rosary as a means to convert heretics, the Dominican celebration of the feast has some beautiful characteristics.

The hymns for the Divine Office run through each of the mysteries of the Rosary, and the antiphons throughout the day commemorate the events of the Blessed Mother written in the Gospels.  The feast, which used to fall on the first Sunday of October (Rosary Sunday) also was accompanied by a blessing of roses:

God, you are the creator and upholder of the human race, the author of grace and the generous giver of eternal salvation, with your holy blessing bless these roses which we beg you to bless, and which we offer this day in thanksgiving to you and in devotion and veneration towards the ever blessed virgin Mary of the rosary.  By the power of the holy cross pour out a heavenly + blessing on these roses, which have given to man to enjoy their pleasing fragrance and to alleviate sickness.  By the sign of the holy + cross let them be endowed with such blessing that the sick to whom they are brought, or who bring them to their homes, may be healed of their infirmities.  May the devils depart, may they flee panic-stricken with their followers from these dwellings, nor may they any more dare to trouble those who serve you. Through Christ our Lord.

All in all, and as seen in the blessing of roses, this feast was instituted and was celebrated throughout the ages in honor of Our Lady’s protection over the Church both from heresy within and from the attacks from without.  May we too turn to Mary in these days of attacks on the Church and her teachings, and may we entrust ourselves to the Blessed Virgin’s intercession.

O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation. Grant, we beseech Thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Raymund of Capua

Among the many saintly Masters of the Order, Bl. Raymund of Capua (1330-1399, feast – Oct. 5) holds a special place. Not only was he tasked to be the spiritual director of St. Catherine of Siena, but he was also elected Master of the Order in a time when the Church was suffering through the Great Schism, and the Order was going through its own trials as it stood on the verge of rupture.

Bl. Raymund of Capua, Church of San Domenico, Siena

While still a young priest, Bl. Raymund came to Siena to be the lector of the Dominican priory in that city. Soon after,  he met St. Catherine who heard these words while assisting at one of his masses:

This is my beloved servant; this is he to whom I will give thee.

Siena, at the time, was in the midst of the Black Plague. St. Catherine and Bl. Raymund both worked tirelessly to aid the sick, and eventually Bl. Raymund  contracted the plague. Yet, thanks to the intercession of St. Catherine, he was miraculously healed.

A few years later, Bl. Raymund was called to Rome, and with St. Catherine, he labored for the restoration of the Church to be one fold. At the time, the Great Schism had just erupted, and Bl. Raymund was asked by the Holy Father to try and reconcile the Church. After being prevented from discussing the matter with King Charles V, Bl. Raymund was asked to preach against the schismatics in Genoa. It was at this time that he learned of the death of St. Catherine.

This experience of trying to reconcile the Church proved to be incredibly important for Bl. Raymund who, only weeks after St. Catherine’s death, was elected Master of the Order. Not only had the Church been suffering through a schism, but the Order too was undergoing is own divisive period. Bl. Raymund strove to unite the two factions in the Order, and with the help of holy friars, such as Bl. John Dominici, he was able to reestablish the regular observance in the Order and restore peace and concord. For this, he was referred to as the “Second Founder” of the Order. Thanks to Bl. Raymund, the Dominican Order never split.

O God, who wouldst have Blessed Raymund, thy confessor, to be a distinguished master of evangelical perfection and a faithful supporter of the Apostolic authority, graciously grant, that, living after his example on earth, we may deserve to be crowned with him in heaven.  Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: St. Dominic Ibanez and Companions

St. Dominic Ibañez and his companions (feast day – Sept. 28) were martyred between 1633 and 1637 in Japan.  This is the fourth of the four groups of Japanese martyrs, historically speaking, and of these 16 martyrs is included the first Filipino martyr, St. Lawrence Ruiz, who was a husband and father as well as a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary.  In the words of St. Guillermo Courtet, they went to Japan “only to preach faith in God and to teach salvation to little ones and to the innocent and to all the rest of the people.”

These Japanese martyrs came mostly from the Philippines (or from Spain through the Philippines) to Japan.  When St. Dominic Ibañez first arrived in Japan in 1623, Christianity was tolerated because a powerful shogun was supportive of it.  However, subsequent shoguns weren’t.  This led to a resurgence in the persecutions that had started back in 1587 with the “Edict of Expulsion of all Missionaries.”

As a result, the Dominicans ended up working in cognito, until they were found out and martyred by crucifixions, beheadings, water torture, and the “gallows and hole” torture, which often lasted for days.  The Second Reading for Matins on this feast, by St. Dominic Ibañez, is particularly detailed when it comes to describing the martyrdoms:

Last month, many were burned alive and about thirty were sawed in two. As horrible as these were, the tortures by which they tried to force the sufferers to renounce the faith were even more cruel. They slowly boiled some in water mixed with sulphur, resin, oil, and other things to increase the pain; they crucified others, some they submerged in freezing water, others they buried up to the waist and sawed them in half slowly, so that the pain might be dragged out over seven or eight days. Up to this point, they have only executed the religious by burning them alive while suspended over a pit, so that since the flames did not encircle the body they might die slowly.

Let us then pray for the Church in Japan and look to the martyrs as an example of fidelity and faithfulness to the spread of the Gospel.  As Bl. Pope John Paul II said in his canonization homily, “The Holy martyrs speak to the Church in Japan, particularly to the Archdiocese of Nagasaki, to the Church in Taiwan and in Macao and to all Christ’s followers in Asia: may the example and intercession of the new Saints help to extend Christian truth and love throughout the length and breadth of this vast continent!

O Lord, give us the perseverance of your blessed martyrs Dominic, James, Lawrence, and their companions, in service of you and our neighbor; for they who suffered persecution for the sake of justice now reign with you among the blessed.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

[Here’s a link to the Vatican biographies of the individual saints, as well as links to the beatification homily and the canonization homily (which does have some English, just scroll down).]

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Hyacinth Serrano Lopez and Companions

Before the movie For Greater Glory came out this past summer, many Catholics had no idea that there could be martyrs in a predominantly Catholic country.  That movie opened eyes to the reality of the persecution the Church underwent at the hands of secular authorities.

The Dominican martyrs commemorated on September 22 have the same effect.  Bl. Hyacinth Serrano Lopez and his 17 companions were martyred in the Spanish Civil War in the years 1934-1939.  Bl. Pope John Paul II beatified them, and 215 others, in 2001.  In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, in the largest single beatification ever, beatified 498 martyrs from the Spanish Civil War, including 74 Dominicans.  In this latter group are a former Master of the Order, Bl. Bonaventure Garcia Paredes, and the first beatified martyred Dominican nun, Bl. Josefina Sauleda Paulis.  While September 22nd is not officially the feast day on the Dominican calendar of Bl. Bonaventure and his companions, it seems appropriate to remember them on the feast of Bl. Hyacinth and his companions.

Bl. Bonaventure

The 92 Dominican martyrs of the Spanish Civil included priests and lay brothers, student brothers and a novice, a nun and sisters, and even two third order laity.  Among them, Bl. Bonaventure Garcia Paredes shows a particularly beautiful witness.  He spent his last months hiding from the communists while trying to hear confessions and say Mass.  When he was finally captured, he said:

I have committed no crime except that of being a priest and a religious; Divine Providence so wants.

Bl. Josefina

Bl. Josefina Sauleda Paulis also gave a heroic witness.  Years after entering the Dominican cloistered monastery in Barcelona, she began to have a desire for prayer.  When the persecution of the Church began, her prayer began to be answered.  Eventually, she was captured and interogated by the communist authorities.  As they were about to take her away, she said the folllowing:

If you are going to kill me, why don’t you do it right here?

At dawn the next day, she received the answer to the prayer for which she had prayed for years and even more fervently the night before.  She was martyred, and her body was found outside the Hippodrome in Barcelona.

These two blesseds, among the 731 beatified in 2001 and 2007, show the great grace that the Lord provides to those whom He specially chooses to follow His path to Calvary.  In the beatification homily of Bl. Bonaventure Garcia Paredes and his companions, Pope Benedict said this:

Adding such a great number of martyrs to the list of beatified persons shows that the supreme witness of giving blood is not an exception reserved only to some individuals, but a realistic possibility for all Christian people. It includes men and women of different ages, vocations and social conditions, who pay with their lives in fidelity to Christ and his Church.

Almighty ever-living God, who gave Blesseds Hyacinth Serrano Lopez and Bonaventure Garcia Paredes and their companions the grace of suffering for Christ, come, in your divine mercy, we pray, to the help of our own weakness, that, as your Saints did not hesitate to die for your sake, we, too, may live bravely in confessing you. Through Christ our Lord.

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Dominican Saints 101: Bl. Catherine of Racconigi

Just as the Carmelites have their many famous Teresas so too do the Dominicans have their Catherines: St. Catherine of Alexandria (by adoption as patroness of the Order), St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine de Ricci, Bl. Catherine Jarrige, and Bl. Catherine of Racconigi (1486-1547, feast – September 4). Most of these Catherine’s were espoused to the Lord. Many of them received crowns of thorns. They all showed the greatness of God’s grace to draw hearts close to Him.

Tomb of the incorrupt body of Bl. Catherine, with the words Jesus spes mea on the pillow under her body

Aside from being espoused to the Lord at the age of five and aside from receiving the stigmata and a crown of thorns, Bl. Catherine of Racconigi is a prime example of Christ drawing hearts close to Him. Several times the Lord appeared to her and took her heart so that He might cleanse and beautify it. Moreover, as the tradition holds, the words Jesu, spes mea–“Jesus, my hope!”–were inscribed on her heart in letters of gold.

Christ loves His virgin brides. The tokens that He has given them, especially to the saintly Dominicans cloistered nuns and active sisters, shows that He desires nothing but union with souls. Sometimes this means sharing in the hardships of His Passion. For Bl. Catherine, this meant a life of destitute poverty, abandonment by many friends at death, and even the challenge of being deprived of her confessor before she died. Yet, through it all, her Hope–Christ the Lord, drew her to Himself, where she is now in perfect happiness in heaven.

O Lord, our Hope, who didst enrich with an abundance of celestial gifts the heart of Blessed Catherine, already filled with Thee, grant, through the intercession of that glorious Virgin, that He may be wholly fastened to our hearts, who for our sakes was wholly fastened to the cross, Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Dominican Saints 101: St. Hyacinth

Like Holy Father Dominic, St. Hyacinth (ca. 1185-1257, feast – Aug. 17, patron of those in danger of drowning) was a canon. And like St. Dominic, a journey with his bishop changed his life.

Vestition of St. Hyacinth by St. Dominic

St. Hyacinth, along with his brother Bl. Ceslaus, was a Canon of the Cathedral of Krakow. When their uncle, the bishop of Krakow traveled to Rome, he brought along his two saintly nephews as well as Henry of Moravia and Herman the Teutonic. Soon after they arrived in Rome, they witnessed St. Dominic raise a young man from the dead. The bishop, so inspired by St. Dominic, begged him to send friars to Poland. But, St. Dominic didn’t have anyone to send. So he told the bishop,

My Lord, you have with you four young clerics; give them to me. I will clothe them with our habit, form them to apostolic virtues, and return them to you in a short time full of zeal and devotedness.”

They were clothed with the habit, returned to Poland six months later, and St. Dominic’s promise came true. St. Hyacinth was filled with such a great apostolic zeal that he traveled to Denmark, Scandinavia, and Russia. Some stories even have him traveling as far east as Tibet and the Great Wall of China.

Tomb of St. Hyacinth in Krakow

Not only was St. Hyacinth zealous, but he was also devoted. Like St. Dominic, he had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who would often appear to him. On one occasion, the Tartars stormed into Kiev started to burn the city. St. Hyacinth proceeded to grab the Blessed Sacrament to keep it safe, and as he was leaving the church, a statue of the Blessed Mother spoke to him begging him to take her as well. Miraculously, he was able to lift the heavy statue and escape from the church, sailing across the river on his cappa (a miracle similar to that of St. Raymond of Penafort).

Like St. Hyacinth, may the Lord grant us the graces to be zealous for the spread of the faith and devoted to His Blessed Mother.

O God, who didst make Blessed Hyacinth, thy confessor, glorious amongst the people of divers nations for the holiness of his life and the glory of his miracles, grant that by his example we may amend our lives, and be defended by his help in all adversities. Through Christ our Lord.