Bl. Joan of Aza

(c.1140-c.1203, A.D.)

Last week we introduced you to St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans. Today we give you his mother, Blessed Joan. Like mother, like son.

Joan was born in the Castle of Aza, near Aranda, kingdom of Old Castle, Spain. She married Feliz de Guzman of Calaroga.

This Guzman family must have been models of faith and devotion. Because of their reputation, the poet Dante Alighieri praised their native place: “Happy Calaroga! There where the gentle breeze whispers and wanders among the young flowers that bloom over the garden of Europe, near that shore where the waves break, and behind which the great sun sinks at evening.”

Out of this deeply Christian family came four pious children. The eldest, Anthony, became a canon regular at Santiago and sold his possessions that he might serve in a hospital the ailing and poor. The second, Friar Mannes, joined his brother’s community and served as Dominican superior at Paris and Madrid. He, too, would be declared “blessed” in 1834. The next child, a daughter whose name is not known, married, but two of her sons also joined the Order of Preachers.

When Anthony and Mannes were already grown up, Joan prayed for the gift of another son. She offered this prayer in the abbey-church of Silos. Another Dominic, St. Dominic of Silos, is said to have appeared to her in a dream and assured her that the prayer would be granted, and that the child would be a shining light. In gratitude. she promised to give him the name Dominic.

Before the baby was born, Joan de Guzman had another dream. It seemed to her that she was bearing a dog, and the dog broke forth, and with a flaming torch in its mouth ran off carrying light into the world. These two symbols would be cherished by the Dominicans. St. Dominic has since been represented with a star shining on his forehead. The dog, too, is used by the Dominicans as one of their symbols. Punning on the Latin phrase, Domini canes, they have been proud to call themselves the “hounds of God.”

Very little is known about Blessed Joan except through the mirror of her children. Significantly, she was venerated as a saint from the moment of her death. A hermitage of the Knights of St. James was named after her, as was a chapel in the cemetery of Calaroga. In 1828 Spain’s King Ferdinand VII asked the Holy See to confirm this ancient veneration. Pope Leo XII therefore confirmed her cult, granting her the title “blessed.”

Today we are faced by an appalling drop in vocations to the priesthood and religious orders - at least in the “democratic” world. (Vocations thrive in the third World and eastern Europe.) The life of Bl. Joan of Aza reminds us that vocations normally are granted to families that hold the religious call in high esteem and feel honored if even one of their children is summoned by God to the religious life.

It is not a question of parental pressure to accept such a call. Constraint, however well-intentioned, could have tragic effects. What parents must do is to raise their children to appreciate the importance of the priesthood and religious life, and to consider a religious calling as a rare but rich sign of God’s providential grace. God never explains His choices, although He usually favors families that have shown Him a special readiness to serve.

Let parents, therefore, pray that, if God sees fit, He may give to them the inestimable gift of calling forth from their family another Samson, another David, another Ephrem, another St. Therese, another St. Dominic.

--Father Robert F. McNamara