Thomas of Villanova, St.
THOMAS OF VILLANOVA, ST.
Augustinian scholar, archbishop of Valencia; b. 1486, Fuenllana, Spain; d. Sept. 8, 1555, Valencia, Spain. Tomás García Martínez was born of Alonso Tomás García and Lucía Martínez Castellanos in Fuenllana in the province of Toledo, Spain. His family came from the city of Villanova (now Villanueva) de los Infantes, from which, according to the custom of his time, he derived his surname. At age 16 he enrolled at the University of Alcalá (1502–1512), obtained his degree in theology in an exceptionally short period of time, and was immediately invited to become part of the teaching faculty of his alma mater (1512–1516). The University of Salamanca, offered Thomas a professorship in 1516. Thomas declined the offer, announcing instead his intention to become an Augustinian friar. He professed religious vows in the Order of Saint Augustine on Nov. 25, 1517 and was ordained a priest on Dec. 18, 1518. His fellow Augustinians, recognizing both his gifts and his holiness of life, soon chose him to be local superior or prior. He was prior of the monasteries of Salamanca, Burgos, and Valladolid, and visitor general and reformer of the Province of Castile (1525–1527) at the request of Emperor Charles V. When the Province of Spain was divided he became the first prior provincial of the Province of Andalusia (1527–1529); he was prior provincial of the Province of Castile (1534–1537). Concerned about the spiritual state of the people in the far reaches of the Spanish empire, he promoted the organization of a missionary group of Augustinian friars to minister to the people in the new world.
In 1542 the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, asked Thomas to become the bishop of Granada. He declined the offer. In 1544, while Thomas was prior of Valladolid, the king again offered Thomas an episcopal see—this time that of the wealthy archdiocese of Valencia. Again Thomas refused. But the king pressured Thomas' religious superior to force him to accept the position. Fray Francisco de Nieva, prior provincial of Castile and a former student of Thomas at Salamanca, ordered him to accept the position in virtue of his vow of obedience, and Thomas accepted. On Jan. 1, 1545, at the age of 59, he became archbishop of Valencia. He established boarding schools and high schools. For young girls he provided dowries, enabling them to be married in dignity. For the hungry, he turned his bishop's palace into a kind of soup kitchen. For the homeless he provided a place to sleep, offering them the shelter of his own home. It is thus for good reason that the common folk called him the "Beggar Bishop" and "Father of the Poor."
In 1545, the year that Thomas was appointed archbishop, he was summoned to attend the Council of Trent in Italy, but was not able to be present because the needs of his newly acquired diocese, which had not had a resident bishop since 1427, were urgent. Six years later, he was again asked to be present at the council; again he was unable to attend, for now he was too ill. On Aug. 28, 1555, the feast of Saint Augustine, Thomas celebrated Mass for the last time. Over the next 12 days he grew gradually weaker. As he was nearing death, he distributed to the needy what few personal belongings he still possessed; he even gave away the straw mattress on which he slept, asking only that he be allowed to borrow it until his death. Thomas died on Sept. 8, 1555. He was beatified in 1618 and canonized in 1658. Centuries later, a score of churches, schools, and universities bear his name. A congregation of sisters, devoted to charity, founded in France, was also named after him. In 1959 he was declared patron of studies in the Augustinian Order.
Feast: Sept. 18; Oct. 10 (Augustinians).
Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum (Paris 1863–) Sept. 5:799–992. thomas of villanova, Obras: Sermones de la Virgen y obras castellanas (Madrid 1952). The Works of Saint Thomas of Villanova, The Augustinian Series, Volume 20, Part 1: Sermons, Advent, with an introduction by a. turrado, o.s.a.; Part 2: Sermons, Christmas; Part 3: Sermons, Lent; Part 4: Sermons, Easter; Part 5: Sermons, Sunday; Part 6A: Saints; Part 6B: Saints; Part 7: Marian Sermons; Part 8: Other Works; Part 9: Literature. Saint Thomas of Villanova. A Biography (Villanova 1994–2001). k. hofmann, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger, 10v. (Freiburg 1930–38) 10:134–135. p. jobit, L'eveque des pauves (Paris 1961). s. back, The Pelican. A Life of Saint Thomas of Villanova (Villanova 1987). a. chafer, "La llamada universal a la santidad en Santo Tomas de Villanueva" Revista Augstiniana 35 (Madrid 1994), 171–204; a. chafer, Santo Tomas de Villanueva. Fidelidad evangelica y renovacion eclesial (Historia viva, 11) Madrid, Ed. Revista Agustiniana 1966 (422). j. stohr, and a. zumkeller, t. von villanova, Marienlexikon 6 (St. Ottilien 1994), 413 – 415. a. turrado, Santo Tomas de Villanueva, Maestro de teologia y espiritualidad agustinianas (Perfiles 3) Madrid, Ed. Revista Agustiniana, 1995 (91).