Summary: St Thomas of Villanova, Educator, philanthropist, born at Fuentellana, Spain, 1488; died at Valencia, 8 Sept., 1555.
Son of Aloazo Tomas Garcia and Lucia Martínez Castellanos, the saint was brought up in the practices of religion and charity. Every Friday his father gave alms weekly to the needy. On great feast-days he added wood, wine, and money; while to poor farmers he loaned money and seed. On the death of her husband, Lucia continued giving alms, clothing and money.
University and the Augustinians
Thomas entered the University of Alcalá, where, after proceeding master of arts and licentiate in theology, he filled the chair (1514) of arts, logic, and philosophy. He declined the chair of natural philosophy at Salamanca, where he joined the Augustinians in 1516, took his vows following a year later, and was ordained to priesthood the year after; his first Mass was celebrated at Christmas, 1518. He reached in many pulpits in Spain In Valentia Thomas was named by the emperor his court preacher, and one of his councillors of state. His letters to the emperor are stored at Simancas.
Apart from these burdens Thomas held many offices of trust in his order, e.g. as convent prior in various cities, among others at Valladolid in 1544, the very year he was called to the See of Valencia. Moreover, he was twice provincial-prior, he sent the first mission band of his brethren across the Atlantic in 1533 to establish houses of their order in Mexico. On 5 Aug., 1544, he received his nomination to the Archbishopric of Valencia an appointment that was confirmed by Paul III. Previously St. Thomas had declined the See of Granada, offered him by the emperor, while that of Valencia he accepted only through obedience to his superiors. On his entrance to his see on 1 Jan., 1545, of which he was thirty-second bishop and eighth archbishop, St. Thomas opened his career as legislator and philanthropist, which won for him the titles of “Almsgiver”, “Father of the Poor”, and “Model of Bishops”, given him at his beatification in 1618 by Paul V. During his eleven years of episcopal rule his most noteworthy deeds were as follows: a visitation of his diocese, opened a few weeks after entrance into his see. Among other amendments he inhibited his visitators from accepting any gifts whatever. He then held a synod, the first at Valencia for many years, whereby he sought to do away with a number of abuses, as bloodshed, divorce, concubinage, and many excessive privileges or unreasonable exemptions; he abolished the underground prisons; rebuilt the general hospital at Valencia which had just been destroyed by fire; founded two colleges, one for young ecclesiastics, the other for poor students; laboured for the conversion of the nuevos Cristianos, whose profession of Christianity was largely mere outward show; established a creche near his palace for foundlings and the offspring of indigent parents; had Mass said at early hours for the working-classes; and in brief, strove to reform the morals of his followers.
St Thomas and the Poor
Towards the poor especially his heart was ever alive with pity; to them his palace gate was always open; daily he had a meal for every poor person that applied for help, as many even as four to five hundred thus getting their meals at his hands. He supplied the poor with money, food, clothing, while as to indigent workmen, poor farmers, and mechanics, he brought them tools, thus putting them in the way of making a living.
He spent his spare time chiefly in prayer and study; his table was one of simple fare, with no luxuries. His dress was inexpensive; he mended with his own hands whatever needed repairs. Numberless are the instances of St. Thomas’ supernatural gifts, of his power of healing the sick, of multiplication of food, of redressing grievances, of his ecstasies, of his conversions of sinners. He was taken ill in August, 1555, of angina pectoris, of which he died at the age of 67, at the termination of Mass in his bedroom.
His remains were entombed at the convent Church of Our Lady of Help of his order outside the city walls, whence later they were brought to the cathedral. He was beatified by Paul V (7 Oct., 1618), who set his feast-day for 18 Sept., and canonized by Alexander VII on 1 Nov., 1658.
Various reasons are given to account for St. Thomas’ non-appearance at the Council of Trent, among them that he was ill, unable to stand the fatigue of travel; that his people would not brook his absence; and that the emperor was unable to do without his aid at home. His writings of St. Thomas, mainly sermons, are replete with practical norms of mystic theology.