Thomas of Villanova


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archbishop of Valencia and reformer. Born at Fuentellana, he was educated at Villanueva de los Infantes, where his father was a miller. He studied both arts and theology at Alcala University, where he also lectured in philosophy. In 1516 he became an Austin Friar at Salamanca, was ordained priest in 1517 and elected prior in 1519. This office he held in several houses over a period of twenty-five years. He experienced ecstasies in prayer and was outstanding in his care for the sick. When he was provincial of Castile, he sent the first community of Austin Friars to Mexico in 1534. He became preacher at the court of Charles V; this led to his being consecrated bishop of the wealthy see of Valencia in 1544.

He accepted the charge reluctantly, but altered his way of life as little as possible. He wore a threadbare habit and spent many hours in prayer. He devoted much income as well as personal service to orphans, the sick, and the captives. He visited systematically his neglected diocese (without a resident bishop since 1427), held synods regularly, and corrected difficult clergy by combining tact with discretion, generally avoiding, in spite of criticism, heavy authoritarian methods. One of his special concerns was the care of convert Moors, whose commitment was sometimes superficial because of undue pressure or fear. He persuaded Charles V to support priests specially trained for this work, while he himself founded a college for the children of those recently converted. Because of the special needs of his diocese he was excused from attendance at the Council of Trent, although his reforming programme admirably exemplified its policy.

His many sermons influenced Spanish spiritual literature and his writings are notable in quantity and quality. Universities in the USA, Australia, and Cuba have been named after him. His complete dedication to works of charity made him the patron of a congregation of French Augustinian sisters. He was also called ‘The Almsgiver’.

He was beatified in 1618 and canonized in 1658. Feast: 8 September.

AA.SS., s.d.; Sermones de la Virgen y obras castellañas (1952); P. Jobit, L'Évêque des Pauvres (1961); B.L.S., ix. 67–71; N.C.E., xiv. 123–4; Bibl. SS., xii. 591–5.

Subjects: Christianity.

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