Saint of the Day: St. Thomas of Villanova, “Father of the Poor”
Thomas García was the son of a miller who was born in the village of Villanova de los Infantes, Castille, Spain in 1486. He studied theology at the University of Alcalá, where he later taught arts, logic, and philosophy.
Thomas was offered the chair of philosophy at the prestigious University of Salamaca, but declined it, but, instead, entered the Augustinian Order. Ordained to the priesthood in 1520, he celebrated his first Mass on Christmas day. Thomas served as prior of the Augustinian houses in Salamaca, Burgos, and Valladolid, and was later elected provincial of Andalusia and Castile. As provincial, he sent the first Augustinian missionaries to the New World to evangelize what is now modern Mexico.
Thomas’ many gifts, particularly his scholarship, powerful oratory, skills as a mediator and administrator, and his love and compassion for others, brought him to the attention of Emperor Charles V, who appointed him court chaplain and later archbishop of Valencia in 1544.
The intellectual legacy of Thomas is reflected in his constant demand that all learning must be inspired by the desire for God. Thomas cerebrated learning as an activity that ought to make a difference in the community and in the world. He emphasized that justice and love are the guiding rules of virtue and learning. In Thomas’ writings we find a rich synthesis of the thought of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, especially his emphasis on the innate desire for God in all peoples, the image of God in the human person, the power of grace, and a theology of love.
Thomas found himself in an ecclesiastical world that was fraught with turmoil and struggles for power. His scathing attacks on his fellow bishops earned him the title of reformer, but they were motivated by a genuine desire that church leadership personify the teachings of the Beatitudes. Thomas challenged all within the Church to serve the least powerful, and discover love and wisdom in the service of others.
Thomas was known as the “father of the poor.” He established many social programs for the poor, including boarding schools and high schools for poor young men. He provided dowries for young women, enabling them to be married with dignity. He also created a soup kitchen for the poor in the Bishop’s palace, and provided shelter for the homeless.
In August of 1555, Thomas became ill with angina pectoris. As he lay dying, Thomas insisted that all his money be distributed to the poor. At the conclusion of Holy Mass in his room, shortly after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, his last words were “In manus tuas, Domine…” (“Into Your hands, O Lord [I commend my spirit]”).
Thomas was canonized on November 1, 1658.
Patronage: Genzano di Roma, Italy
Symbols: open purse; wallet; bishop’s mitre; book; bag of coins.