The past several years have seen a decline in the number of priests and, sadly, the actions of some priests have eroded the reputations and respect of priests everywhere. However, the priesthood—and religious life—remain great gifts for the Church, and there have been countless priests and religious who have courageously and faithfully offered their lives in prayer and service.
The recent “Year of the Priest” (2009) and the current “Year for Consecrated Life” have provided us with opportunities to pray for and celebrate faithful priests and religious and to also pray for and promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
The Church’s calendar of saints also provides us with frequent opportunities to offer prayers of thanks for the witness of so many holy priests, deacons, and religious from past generations. Included alongside the saints whose names we immediately recognize—Saint Augustine, Saint Benedict, Saint Clare, Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux—are thousands of lesser-known saints and blesseds who have much to say to us about prayer and ministry.
One of these—Blessed Dominic “of the Mother of God”—is celebrated on August 27.
Dominic Barberi was born into a poor Italian family in 1792. As a boy, he worked as a shepherd and taught himself to read and write. During his childhood, he had the opportunity to meet several Passionist priests who were living in exile because their houses had been closed during the Napoleonic War. He felt called to join their community and a vision of Saint Paul of the Cross, the community’s founder, left him with a strong desire to serve in the Catholic missions in England.
Dominic finally entered the Congregation of the Passion (the Passionists) in 1814, receiving the religious name Dominic “of the Mother of God”; he was ordained a priest four years later. Although he had received no formal education in his youth, he proved himself to be a gifted student and, following his ordination, he taught theology and philosophy. For nineteen years he served in various Passionist houses in Italy and he published a number of books on theology and prayer, but he never lost his desire to serve in England. Then, in 1830, he made the acquaintance of some prominent English Catholics and his hopes of serving as a missionary were strengthened. Finally, in 1840, it was decided that Dominic should travel to Belgium where he and three companions would establish a mission that might become a starting off point for an English mission. While in Belgium, Dominic received Saint Charles of St. Andrew into the Passionist Congregation.
In 1842, Dominic saw his dream realized. Establishing the first Passionist community in England, one of his first ministries was the celebration of the Holy Week Services in the parish at Lane End in Staffordshire.
Although he initially met with little success in his ministry—in large part because of his heavy accent, broken English, and simple appearance—he eventually won the love of his people, especially through his simplicity and faith in the face of persecution. Dominic also developed a reputation as a miracle worker and soon people began to fall silent when he passed them on the street. One account of his life records, “children knelt to receive his blessing, and mothers held their babies out to be blessed. He himself attributed his success rather to the example of poverty he gave and to the fact that despite his poverty he was endlessly giving alms.”
One of the great contributions Dominic made to the Universal Church was the assistance he offered to Blessed John Henry Newman. Years later, in his autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Newman recalled Father Dominic:
On October the 8th I wrote to a number of friends the following letter:
“Littlemore, October 8th, 1845. I am this night expecting Father Dominic, the Passionist, who, from his youth, has been led to have distinct and direct thoughts, first of the countries of the North, then of England. After thirty years’ (almost) of waiting, he was without his own act sent here. But he has had little to do with conversions. I saw him here a few minutes on St. John Baptist’s day last year.
He is a simple, holy man; and withal gifted and remarkable powers. He does not know of my intention; but I mean to ask of him admission into the One Fold of Christ…”
Father Dominic received Newman (later Cardinal Newman) into the Church that same night.
Dominic had the pleasure of establishing two other Passionist communities in England and of clothing his friend George Spencer in the Passionist habit. (The cause for the canonization of Venerable George Spencer is now being promoted.) He also established three churches and several chapels and he preached countless missions throughout the country. He is also credited with receiving hundreds of converts into the Church, making him one of the most significant Catholic missionaries in England in the 19th century.
Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God died at Reading, England, on August 27, 1849. Blessed Pope Paul VI beatified him in 1963. His relics are enshrined in the church of St. Anne and Bl. Dominic in St. Helens, Lancashire, England. Buried near him are Venerable George Spencer and the Servant of God Elizabeth Prout, the foundress of the Passionist Sisters.
As we celebrate the memory of Blessed Dominic Barberi, pray for those priests and religious who have touched your life in a special way. Ask Blessed Dominic to pray for priests and religious who are struggling to live their vocation and to be a special patron for all those discerning God’s will for their lives.
A prayer in honor of Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God +Lord, you sent Blessed Dominic to seek out the lost sheep of your flock by preaching your truth and witnessing to your love. May we follow his example and build up the unity of your Church as a sign of faith and love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from the Passionist Supplement to The Roman Missal)
Originally written for Mayslake Ministries and posted on their website on August 27, 2015.