Dominican Saints

Peter Higgins OP: the martyr of Naas

Peter Higgins was a Dominican priest living at Naas, Co Kildare, who tried to protect English Protestants from attacks from Irish Catholics during the Rebellion of 1641. Arrested himself, he was put to death despite the protest of a Protestant minister whom he had saved.

Peter Higgins was born in Dublin about 1600.  He was received into the Dominican order probably at the Priory of St Savior’s in Dublin (where the Four Courts stands now) and may have been ordained there.

During the Rebellion of 1641 when the Irish Ulstermen came south of the Boyne, the Catholic Lords of the Pale opted to join them while the Governor of Dublin, Sir Charles Coote, opted for a policy of “exterminate all Catholics”.  Peter Higgins as Prior of Naas made efforts to restrain the violent and sheltered the homeless.  He intervened to save the Protestant rector of Donadea, William Pilsworth, who was about to be put to the gallows by Catholics. In January 1642 the Earl of Ormond mobilised a Protestant force in Dublin to strike back at Catholics.  Among those taken into custody was Peter Higgins, who in fact did not resist arrest. Ormond intervened on Higgins’s behalf presenting petitions from at least twenty Protestants who had known Higgins urging that the priest’s life be spared.  But he learned to his amazement on the morning of 23rd March 1642 that Higgins’s body was hanging from a gallows at Hoggen Green in the center of Dublin; Sir Charles Coote had executed him without trial. At the gallows Higgins was offered a chance to deny his faith, but declined saying: “I die a Catholic and a Dominican priest.  I forgive from my heart all who have conspired to bring about my death. Deo gratias.”  Among the crowd stood William Pillsworth, rector of Donadea.  He cried out: “This man is innocent, this man is innocent.  He saved my life.”  His words fell on deaf ears.  No one knows where he was buried.  His story became known outside Ireland through the martyrologies of the Dominican Order.  A stone statue of him stands outside the Dominican Church in Naas. Pope John Paul II beatified him along with sixteen other Irish martyrs in September 1992.

Terence Albert O’Brien OP

Catholic Martyr and Irish Dominican Blessed Terence Albert O’Brien is commemorated on 30th October each year.

Terence Albert O’Brien was born in Ireland in 1601 and entered the Order of Preachers in 1622. He was first Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of Ireland and it was while returning to Ireland after a General Chapter of the Order in Rome, Italy, that he learned he had been appointed Bishop of Emily, a small diocese not terribly far from the better known city of Limerick. His life coincided with a period of intense persecution of the Catholic faith in Ireland and he was eventually executed on 30th October 1651.

Together with fellow Dominican and contemporary, Fr Peter Higgins who was prior of the Dominican priory at Naas (since transferred to nearby Newbridge town), Terence Albert was beatified with fifteen additional fellow-martyrs (between 1579 and 1654) on 27th September 1992 by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

St. Thomas Aquinas OP

Italian Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the most influential medieval thinkers of Scholasticism and the father of the Thomistic school of theology.

St. Thomas Aquinas was born circa 1225 in Roccasecca, Italy. Combining the theological principles of faith with the philosophical principles of reason, he ranked among the most influential thinkers of medieval Scholasticism. Aquinas died on March 7, 1274, at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova, Italy

Before St. Thomas Aquinas was born, a holy hermit shared a prediction with his mother, foretelling that her son would enter the Order of Friars Preachers, become a great learner, and achieve unequaled sanctity. Following the tradition of the period, St. Thomas Aquinas was sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino to train among Benedictine monks when he was just 5 years old. At Monte Cassino, the quizzical young boy repeatedly posed the question, “What is God?” to his benefactors. St. Thomas Aquinas remained at the monastery until he was 13 years old, when the political climate forced him to return to Naples.

St. Thomas Aquinas spent the next five years completing his primary education at a Benedictine house in Naples. During those years, he studied Aristotle’s work, which would later become a major launching point for St. Thomas Aquinas’s own exploration of philosophy. At the Benedictine house, which was closely affiliated with the University of Naples, Thomas also developed an interest in more contemporary monastic orders. He was particularly drawn to those that emphasized a life of spiritual service, in contrast with the more traditional views and sheltered lifestyle he’d observed at the Abbey of Monte Cassino.

Circa 1239, St. Thomas Aquinas began attending the University of Naples. In 1243, he secretly joined an order of Dominican monks, receiving the habit in 1244. When his family found out, they felt so betrayed that he had turned his back on the principles to which they subscribed that they decided to kidnap him. Thomas’s family held him captive for an entire year, imprisoned in the fortress of San Giovanni at Rocca Secca. During this time, they attempted to deprogram Thomas of his new beliefs. Thomas held fast to the ideas he had learned at university, however, and went back to the Dominican order following his release in 1245.

From 1245 to 1252, St. Thomas Aquinas continued to pursue his studies with the Dominicans in Naples, Paris and Cologne. He was ordained in Cologne, Germany, in 1250, and went on to teach theology at the University of Paris. Under the tutelage of St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas subsequently earned his doctorate in theology. Consistent with the holy hermit’s prediction, Thomas proved an exemplary scholar, though, ironically, his modesty sometimes led his classmates to misperceive him as dim-witted. After reading Thomas’s thesis and thinking it brilliant, his professor, St. Albert the Great, proclaimed in Thomas’s defense, “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world!”

St Catherine Of Siena OP

Saint Catherine was born into a prosperous urban family, the 23rd of 25 children. She received no formal education and resolved at an early age to remain a virgin for Christ.

At the age of 16 she became a lay Dominican and received the habit, as was the custom at the time. She dedicated her life to helping the poor, and was a voice for reform within the Church.

The Western Schism (1378-1418) was a source of great suffering for her till her death.

In her writings, or rather those she dictated because she never learned how to write, she details her mystical experiences, her visions of Jesus, of hell, purgatory and heaven. Her major work is the Dialogue of Divine Providence.

She died in Rome in 1380, was canonised in 1461, and was declared Doctor of the Church in 1970.

St. Martin de Porres OP

St. Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru, on December 9, 1579 to Don Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and adventurer, and Ana Velasquez, a freed daughter of slaves from Panama. His father abandoned the family when Martin and his sister, Juana, were very young. Ana Velasquez supported her children by taking in laundry When Martin turned eight, his father had a change of heart and decided to claim his two.  After leaving home, Martin took a room in the house of Ventura de Luna. Always a devoted Catholic who spent much time in church, Martin begged his landlady for some candle stubs. She was curious about his activities and one night spied on him through a keyhole and witnessed Martin in a vigil of ecstatic prayer.

Martin joined the Dominican Order of Preachers as a lay-brother. Martin continued to practice his old trades of barbering and healing and performed many, many miraculous cures. He also took on kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. His relationship with his brothers was tinged by their curiosity and occasional pranks.

Martin’s spiritual practices were legendary. He would often fast for extensive periods of time on bread and water. Equally legendary was his love of animals.

However, it is St. Martin’s charity that made him the patron saint of social justice. Martin fed, sheltered and doctored hundreds of families.

St. Martin died on November 3rd, 1639. He died surrounded by his brothers and reciting the Credo, his life ending with the words “et homo factus est”. His funeral was attended by thousands of Peruvians from all walks of life who vied to get a piece of St. Martin’s habit as a relic. These pieces of the saint’s habit have been associated with innumerable miraculous cures.

St Martin de Porres is buried in the Basilica of the Holy Rosary Convent in Lima, Peru