CONRAD OF GERMANY
When Saint Dominic first went to Bologna, he found there a celebrated professor of canon law, who was called Conrad of Germany from his native country. Not only in Bologna, where he had long taught his subject-matter, but even throughout Italy, Professor Conrad was considered the oracle of the age in his branch. Learned men came from great distances to consult him. Besides, he was a pious, exemplary priest whom everyone considered a model of the clerical life. Saint Dominic and his confrères were most anxious for him to join their ranks, for they felt that a man of his renown, ability, and piety would be an ornament in the new Order which could not fail to be of immense advantage. Yet, because of his high standing, they could not bring themselves to make any such suggestion to him.(1)
The story of Doctor Conrad's vocation, which has come down to us through the course of ages, reads like a novel. In the summer of 1220, Father John, the saintly superior of the Cistercian Monastery of Casamare, and later bishop of Alatri, was sent on an important mission to Germany by Honorius III. The Cistercian prior and Saint Dominic had been intimate and confidential friends, when the latter resided at Rome. On his way to Germany, therefore, John visited Saint Nicholas', in Bologna. While he was there, Dominic confided to him that God had always heard his prayers. "Why then," asked the Cistercian, "do you not pray that Master Conrad may enter your Order?"
Dominic hesitated, for he felt that the likelihood of such a vocation was too improbable. However, the holy men finally agreed to spend the night of the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven in prayer for that purpose. To the great surprise of the community, bright and early the next morning, as they started prime in the divine office in preparation for the celebration of the great feast, the distinguished professor walked into the choir, and humbly asked to receive the habit. The happiness and amazement of all were perhaps rendered the greater because they knew nothing of the supplications Dominic and his friend had been sending up to heaven throughout the night for what was now to take place. The saint, of course, gave Master Conrad the habit then and there. Thus the August 15 of 1220 must have been a joyful day for the Friars Preacher of Bologna.(2)
Once he received the call from God, it seemed to cost Father Conrad of Germany little to lay aside his honors or his position for an humble life in a religious order. Despite his learning, the mature age at which he donned the habit, and the great liberty and authority he had enjoyed, he showed. himself as docile as the youngest novice. He practised no slight mortification. In his humility he now took his place below those older than he in religion with the same grace as he had formerly taken that of distinction in the university circles. It is no wonder that all not only loved him, but also looked up to him as a model. Never had he been so happy.
As was often the case in those early days of the Order, Master Conrad began to teach his younger brethren at once. Along with this, for he was an eloquent man, he did considerable preaching in and around Bologna. But his virtue, ability, and good judgment were soon to take him back to his native land. Saint Dominic looked incessantly towards the north and east as fields for the apostolic labors of his Order. He had already sent Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslas Odrowaz into the country of their birth. In keeping with this view, at the general chapter held at Bologna, in 1221, he appointed Father Conrad provincial of Germany. No doubt the ability and many excellent qualities of the former Bolognese professor caused him to be singled out as the person best fitted f or this important place.
Most likely, in accordance with the custom of the Friars Preacher at that time, he started at once for his new home -- perhaps in company with Gilbert of Fresnay, who was appointed to a like position in England at the same chapter. Doubtless some of Conrad's brethren accompanied him to his new field of toil, but how many we do not know. He seems to have settled himself, at first, in the village of Friesach. Next to Hyacinth and Ceslas and their companions, Father Conrad and his associates were the first Friars Preacher to labor on German soil.
Evidently the choice of Father Conrad as provincial was a good one, and his reputation drew his fellow countrymen in numbers; for the growth of the new province was very rapid. Until he prepared other men to take his place, he appears to have combined the task of teaching the younger brethren with his other duties. He still held the office of provincial in 1231; but how much longer he filled the position we can not say.(3) Yet it is certain that he toiled on with great fruit to souls and his religious institute until age and ill health so sapped his strength that he could labor no more.
Practically all the writers speak of the extraordinary way in which Father Conrad was brought into the Order, of his great ability, and of his reputation for both learning and holiness. Some attribute miracles to him. It is certain that he died on November 24. Most of the authors say that they could not discover the year of his death; but Pio and one or two others place it about 1239.(4) It is almost inconceivable that Marchese does not include him in his Sagro Diario Domenicano.
Both Father Theoderic of Apolda, a contemporary and fellow-countryman, and Father Gerard de Frachet give a beautiful account of the venerable Friar Preacher's holy and edifying death at the convent in Magdeburg, Germany.(5) It is from this that we learn the month and day, but not the year, in which he died. As his soul departed from his body, a smile encircled his lips, and a light as of joy seemed to brighten up his face. All the community felt that they had assisted at the last moments of a saint.
The author of the Chronicles says that Father Conrad had foretold the day of his death. Father Theoderic of Apolda, at the close of his account exclaims: "Verily blessed and efficacious was the prayer of our holy Father, Saint Dominic, which merited to obtain such a son of grace, and coheir to eternal glory!"(6) In the death of Conrad of Germany the Order lost a leader among its leading men. His humility enhanced his greatness.
1. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first vol. for August), 494, Nos. 710-712; ALBERTI, fol, 165; CANTIMPRE, De Apibus, Book 2, Chap. 57; CASTILLO, pp. 118-14, DE FRACHET, pp. 249-250; MALVENDA, pp. 311-312; MAMACHI, pp. 596, 643; PIO, col. 63-64; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 21, 34; THEODERIC of Apolda, Vita Sancti Dominici (published in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 593, Nos. 205-207).
2. The Cistercian bishop of Alatri gave this story to Father John di Columna, O. P., after Saint Dominic's death. (Ed. note).
3. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 21.
4. PIO, col. 64.
5. See Theoderic of Apolda and de Frachet in note 1.
6. At the end of his sketch of Father Conrad of Germany, Father Touron calls attention to the fact that he should not be confounded with Conrad of Marburg. Then he devotes considerable space to the latter, whom some call a Dominican, and others a Franciscan; while still more say that he was a diocesan priest. Father Touron was right in following the last opinion. (Ed. note).