The founder of the Friars Preachers was born about 1170 in north-central Spain. His parents were members of the lower nobility. As a third son, Dominic, in the ordinary course of events, would have been trained for the military, but his mother's pleading and his evident talent for study set the course for him to study for the priesthood at the University of Palencia. At about age twenty-four he was ordained to the priesthood and shortly afterwards joined a group of Augustinian Canons at Osma. He is described as a devout and quiet young priest, happy in the cloister solitude. In 1206 the turning-point of his life came when his bishop, Diego, became unofficial leader of a papal mission to the heretical Albigenses. The bishop chose Dominic as his companion; they lived simply and in poverty, and undertook discussions with their opponents for which they prepared very carefully.

The death of Bishop Diego at the end of 1207 coincided with the murder of the papal legate by the Albigenses. Pope Innocent III ordered a military campaign against their leader, Count Raymund of Toulouse. There followed five years of bloody civil war, massacre, and savagery, during which Dominic and his few followers persevered in their mission of converting the Albigenses by persuasion addressed to the heart and mind.

In 1215 Dominic was able to establish his headquarters in Toulouse, and the idea of an order of preachers began to take shape: a body of highly trained priests on a monastic basis, bound by vows with emphasis on poverty, but devoted to the active work of preaching and teaching anywhere and everywhere. The enterprise was formally approved at Rome in 1216, and in the following year the founder sent eleven of this brothers, over half the then total, to the University of Paris and to Spain. He himself established friaries at Bologna and elsewhere in Italy, and traveled tirelessly to superintend the nascent order, preaching as he went. Saint Dominic also gathered together a group of nine women and established a convent at Prouille, France; through prayer and good works the women participated in the preaching activities of the brethren.

All the evidence goes to show that Saint Dominic was a man of remarkable attractiveness of character and broadness of vision; he had the deepest compassion for every sort of human suffering; he saw the need to use all the resources of human learning in the service of Christ; his constant reading was Saint Matthew's Gospel, Saint Paul's letters and the Conferences of Saint John Cassian. The order that he founded was a formative factor in the religious and intellectual life of later medieval Europe; its diffusion is now world-wide.

Adapted from Donald Attwatter, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin Books, 1963.