St. Thomas of Villanova
Picture by our parishioner, Bill Mc Covick

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St. Thomas of Villanova O.S.A. (1488–1555) was a Spanish friar of the Order of Saint Augustine who was a noted preacher, ascetic and religious writer of his day. He became an archbishop who was famous for the extent of his care for the poor of his see.

He was born Tomás García y Martínez and grew up and was educated in Villanueva de los Infantes, in the Province of Ciudad Real, Spain, where his parents owned a prosperous estate; therefore the name Thomas of Villanueva. Part of the original house still stands, with a coat of arms in the corner, beside a family chapel. In spite of his family's wealth, as a young boy he often went about naked because he had given his clothing to the poor.

Even though he studied Arts and Theology at the University of Alcalá de Henares and had become a professor there, he decided to join the Augustinian friars in Salamanca in 1516, and in 1518 was ordained a priest. Within the Order, he successively held the positions of prior of his local monastery, Visitor General, and Prior Provincial for Andalusia and Castile. He was also a professor at the university and counsellor and confessor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain.

Thomas was well known for his great personal austerity (he sold the straw mattress on which he slept in order to give money to the poor) and for his continual and untiring charitable efforts, especially towards orphans, poor women without a dowry, and the sick. He possessed, however, an intelligent notion of charity, so that while he was very charitable, he sought to obtain definitive and structural solutions to the problem of poverty; for example, giving work to the poor, thereby making his charity bear fruit. "Charity is not just giving, rather removing the need of those who receive charity and liberating them from it when possible," he wrote.

In 1533, Thomas sent out the first Augustinian friars to arrive in Mexico. He began to experience mystical ecstasies during Mass and when reading the psalms. Charles V offered him the post of Archbishop of Granada but he would not accept it. In 1544 he was nominated as Archbishop of Valencia but he continued to refuse the position until ordered to accept by his superior. There, aided by his assistant bishop, Juan Segriá, he put in order an archdiocese that for a century had not had direct pastoral government. He organized a special college for Moorish converts, and in particular an effective plan for social assistance, welfare, and charity.

Thomas composed beautiful sermons, among which stands out the Sermon on the Love of God, one of the great examples of sacred oratory of the 16th century. He enjoyed great fame as a preacher, with a plain and simple style. Charles V, upon hearing him preach, exclaimed, "This monsignor can move even the stones!", and he brought about public conversions. Some of his sermons attacked the cruelty of bullfighting. He also had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary, whose heart he compared to the burning bush of Moses that is never consumed. In 1547 he ordained as a priest the future Saint Luis Beltrán, O.P., a noted missionary in South America.

Thomas died in 1555 of angina at the age of 67. He was canonized by Pope Alexander VII on November 1, 1658. His feast day is celebrated on September 22.

Thomas is the author of various Tracts, among which is included the Soliloquy between God and the soul, on the topic of communion. Francisco de Quevedo wrote his biography. His complete writings were published in six volumes as Opera omnia, in Manila in 1881.

Thomas is the namesake and patron saint of Villanova University, near Philadelphia in the United States, which was founded and is administered by the friars of his Order, Universidad Católica de Santo Tomás de Villanueva in Havana, Cuba, St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, USA and Villanova College, a Catholic school for boys located in Brisbane, Australia. In the Philippines, some of the churches are dedicated in honor of the saint: he is the patron saint of the famous church of Miag-ao in Iloilo, and he is also the patron saint of Barangay Santolan in Pasig City, only church in Luzon dedicated to him.