Saint Thomas of Villanova -10th October

He was born in 1486 at Fuenllana (Ciudad Real, Spain), As a young child he lived with his parents in a city close to Villanueva de los Infantes. His parents worked a number of fields and, although they were not rich, they raised their family in a way that the children could receive a good education. Thomas started his studies there and, from an early stage, he showed indications of an above-average intelligence. In 1501 he entered the University of Alcalá, where in 1509 he obtained the title of Master of Arts. At the same university he then taught logic between 1512 and 1516. This humanistic formation accompanied him throughout his lifetime.

In the city of Salamanca he embraced religious life as an Augustinian. From the very years of his formation and ordination, he was assigned work and positions of importance and responsibility; for various times he was prior at Salamanca, Burgos and Valladolid; he was appointed as visiting provincial and, later, prior provincial of the province of Andalucia and, later, of Castille. He was a person who favoured work as a missionary at a time when the drive towards evangelisation was centred on the new continent discovered in 1492. Thomas sent various missionaries to Latin America. His fame and work became known to Charles V who did not delay in appointing Thomas as preacher and counsellor to the royal household.  On the insistence of the same Emperor, in 1544 he was appointed Bishop of Valencia, an important and large diocese, but which was in a state of abandon and facing great difficulties. 

Thomas did not get lost in ceremonial and other material matters but worked heart and soul for the good of the flock entrusted to his care. Some of his choices were indeed decisions that anticipated those taken at the Council of Trent. Thomas was unable to attend that Council but, through another bishop, he sent a memorandum containing a number of suggestions. Unfortunately, these proposals for the reform of the Church did not reach their aim. This notwithstanding, the historian Hubert Jedin, a scholar who specialised on the Council of Trent, stated that “the shadow of Ximenez accompanied the Spanish bishops when they went on their way to Trent and on them was shed a light of a saint, Thomas of Villanova”.

 Amongst the work and reforms - some without precedent - carried out by Thomas was the convocation of a diocesan synod in 1540 and the setting up of the ‘Major College of Mary’s Presentation’ for the formation of diocesan clergy in 1550, that is years before the Council of Trent established the concept of a seminary. The works closest to his heart were two: the visits he used to make within his vast diocese and his attention to the poor and to the people living in misery that was prevalent in Valencia. As regards the former, he touched with his hands and saw with his eyes the great difficulties in which the population found itself, and where possible, he took the necessary action. On the latter problem, he worked heart and soul to be “living mercy” amongst the poor and the abandoned. Indeed, at the moment of his death, he gave away to the poor his bed and the mattress on which he lay.

He died in 1550 and was beatified in 1618. Pope Alexander VII canonized him in 1658. The legacy of Thomas of Villanova is abundant, and in his sermons one can find his theological and spiritual thoughts, the way by which he used to share God’s Word with his people. The Augustinian Order considers him as being one of its foremost brethren, and throughout the centuries showed a wish that the Church recognises him as a Doctor of the Church. Thus, in 2015 the Agostiniani Postulazzjoni, together with the Agostiniani Skalzi e Rekolletti initiated a move towards St. Thomas of Villanova being given this title.

The influence of his thoughts and doctrine, coupled with his life-long example of a life entirely dedicated in favour of the poor and those having whatever other needs they had, renders St. Thomas a living example for anybody wishing seriously to live the Gospel.

 

 


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