Donald J. Goergen, OP
(Paulist Press: 2016)
In honor of the 800th anniversary of the Order of Preachers, Donald J. Goergen, OP, offers a new look at the life of its founder--St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar. The book reads more like a memoir than a biography, feels more like a family photo album than a history. Full of well-researched details and rich with the chronology of events in Dominic’s life and preaching career, Goergen makes it easy to imagine meeting Dominic for ourselves. Here is a man who gave birth to a family of which Goergen is a part, a family of friars and religious women, of priests and theologians, of active sisters and committed lay people. He makes it clear that Dominic’s story is kept alive in its telling and retelling, and in Goergen’s accessible account we find a Dominic very much alive in his own time and place, authentically human on his way to sainthood.
Familiar legends appear alongside facts adding savor to the text. We hear about the dream Dominic’s mother received before his birth and Dominic’s famed encounter with the Albigensian innkeeper. But whether Goergen is discussing a detail of Dominic’s life supported by research or debated by scholars, he puts them squarely in the context of the social, economic, religious, and political context of the 13th century. Our portrait of Dominic is not singular. We meet communities of preachers and members of popular religious movements outside the church, popes and landowning benefactors, bishops and lay women with whom Dominic spent his days. It becomes very clear that Dominic’s formation in a life of prayer and contemplation led to his life of active ministry, always in cooperation with other people who believed in the preaching.
To facilitate our entry into the times, Goergen includes sidebars along the way with helpful definitions and introductions to key historical figures. Though themes can be somewhat repetitive, Goergen’s exploration of Dominic’s interior life and possible motivations, of what the saint was doing during years when his actions and whereabouts are uncertain, compels us to reflect on the life of a man who was fully responsive to God and committed to preaching the Gospel. Whether Dominic intended to found an international religious movement remains open to question. What we know is that Dominic’s service to the preaching led to changes in the Church at a time when the world was ready for an expansion of the Gospel. Through it all, Dominic remained a friar among friars, a humble servant of the preaching and of those who would also serve it. Goergen’s St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar celebrates the Order of Preachers’ inheritance: the dynamic history of its first members and the preaching life the worldwide Dominican family continues to share.
Ms Karen Jessee, OP
St. Mary Magdalene Dominican Laity of Raleigh