Before St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, several men experienced a similar vision. One of them recounts:
Once I was caught up in ecstasy for three days and three nights and saw our Lady Mary Mother of God kneeling with her hands joined and begging her Son to wait for the human race to do penance. He put His faithful Mother off many times, but finally answered: ‘My Mother, what more can or should I do for the world? I have sent them prophets and patriarchs for their salvation and they did little to reform; I came Myself and sent out apostles, and these evil people killed Me and them; I sent so many martyrs, doctors and witnesses, and they would not listen to them. But, because it is not right for Me to deny you anything, I will give them preachers to enlighten and correct them.
And another concludes: “ . . .and in a short while you preachers emerged. So you can hold without doubt that your Order was created through the prayers of the glorious Virgin. So you must be very devoted to this great Order and honor Blessed Mary in a special way.”
The story above is told in one of the early documents of the Dominican Order, the Vitae Fratrum or Lives of the Brethren, compiled by Gerard de Frachet in the 1260s. Confident of such a heavenly origin, our early Brethren even became known as “Brothers of Mary”! As daughters of St. Dominic and especially as Mary’s Guards of Honor in the Perpetual Rosary tradition, we love the Blessed Virgin very dearly as our Mother and our Queen. In honor of today’s feast of Mary’s Patronage of the Dominican Order, we have just picked a few examples of our Dominican Saints to highlight below.
According to tradition, Our Lady herself gave the Rosary to our Holy Father St. Dominic (1170-1221) as an effective aid to his preaching. Bl. Alan de la Roche, O.P. tells us that Mary appeared to St. Dominic one day and said to him, “My son, do not be surprised that your sermons fail to bear the results you had hoped for. You are trying to cultivate a piece of ground which has not had any rain. Now when Almighty God planned to renew the face of the earth He started by sending down rain from heaven—and this was the Angelic Salutation. In this way God made over the world. So when you give a sermon, urge people to say my Rosary, and in this way your words will bear much fruit for souls.”
Bl. Jordan of Saxony (1190-1237) was the second Master General of the Order, succeeding our founder St. Dominic. Out of love for Our Lady, he used to recite five psalms beginning with the five letters of her name, M-A-R-I-A, and taught others of the brethren to do the same. When one of the brethren was being troubled by the devil, Bl. Jordan instituted to practice of singing the Salve Regina after Compline to invoke Our Lady’s protection, a practice which spread to the whole Order and continues to this day.
Since we mark all our letters with an Ave + Maria at the top of the page, we were thrilled to learn that St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) himself copied that same Angelic Salutation over and over again on the margins of an autograph copy of one of his great works, the Summa contra Gentiles. Below is an excerpt from a long prayer he wrote to Our Lady:
O most blessed and sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God, filled with all tenderness . . . on this day and all the days of my life, I entrust to your merciful heart my body and my soul, all my acts, thoughts, choices, desires, words, deeds, my entire life and death, so that, with your assistance, all may be ordered to the good according to the will of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Dominican tertiary Blessed Benvenuta (1254-1292) was one of many who were favored to see Our Lady while at Compline with the Dominican Friars. One evening she saw the Blessed Virgin standing in the Prior’s place, then following the hebdomidarian (weekly official) down the rows of kneeling friars, bowing to each as he was sprinkled with holy water. On another occasion she saw Our Lady standing at the front facing the friars. At the words, Jesum benedictum fructum ventris tuis, The blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin made the sign of the cross over them with the Holy Child Jesus Himself, holding Him out in her arms.
Our Lady appeared to Blessed Catherine Racconigi (1487-1547), who later became a Dominican Tertiary, as the little five-year-old girl was praying alone. Mary’s message? Jesus wished Catherine to become His Spouse! The Child Jesus Himself then appeared, with a retinue of saints and angels including the Dominicans St. Catherine of Siena and St. Peter Martyr. The Blessed Virgin placed the wedding ring on Catherine’s finger, where it remained visible to her for the rest of her life.
Blessed Agnes of Jesus (1602-1634), was a Dominican nun of the monastery of Langeac in Auverne, France. St. Louis Marie de Montfort, himself a Dominican tertiary, tells us that when she was only seven years old, a revelation inspired her to consecrate herself to Jesus and Mary as their slave. When she did so, all her sufferings and scruples disappeared and she found great peace of soul, leading her to teach this to many others. “One day the Blessed Virgin appeared to Mother Agnes and put a gold chain around her neck to show her how happy she was that Mother Agnes had become the slave of both her and her Son. And St. Cecilia, who accompanied our Lady, said to her, ‘Happy are the faithful salves of the Queen of Heaven, for they will enjoy true freedom.’”
Our two Foundresses told us this story of a holy Lay Sister (early 1900s) from the monastery of Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Catonsville, Maryland, from which they came. In Catonsville in those days they had Lay Sisters, a position for women who might not be able to read and chant the Latin Office, but could pray Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s, and do manual labor in the community for love of God. One Lay Sister was very dedicated to the Rosary and faithful to the Perpetual Rosary practice of using the recitation of the Hail Mary to keep her recollected while she worked. In fact, our Mothers told us, when she would work at tasks like setting the table with one hand while praying the Rosary with the other, real roses would appear on the table among the plates! Just like in the stories you read of the Saints!
We wish we could go on listing the beautiful examples of devotion to Mary among the holy men and women of our Order. The many missionaries and martyrs, such as St. Hyacinth, who rescued the statue of Our Lady as well as the Blessed Sacrament from the coming Tartars, or the martyrs of Nagasaki, of whom 28 were members of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary; Popes like St. Pius V, who rallied Christendom to pray the Rosary and so obtained the defeat of the Turks at Lepanto; tertiaries like Bl. Bartolo Longo, the convert from “spiritualism and other unsettling beliefs” through whom God built up from nothing the miraculous shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, and that young “man of the Beatitudes” Bl. Piergiorgio Frassati. This is not to forget the holy nuns of the Order such as St. Margaret of Hungary, who was touchingly devoted to the Hail Mary.
One thing we know for sure, however: we need more Dominican Nun saints! Today, as we celebrate the Patronage of Our Lady over the Dominican Order, we beg her to make us saints: not canonized, most probably, but wholly in love with her Son and poured out for the salvation of souls.