Saint Thomas was from Castile in Spain and received his surname from the town where he was raised. He received a superior education at the University of Alcala and became a popular professor of philosophy there.
After joining the Augustinian friars at Salamanca, he was ordained and resumed his teaching–despite a continuing absentmindedness and poor memory. He became prior and then provincial of the friars, sending the first Augustinians to the New World. He was nominated by the emperor to the archbishopric of Granada, but refused. When the see again became vacant he was pressured to accept. The money his cathedral chapter gave him to furnish his house was given to a hospital instead. His explanation to them was that “our Lord will be better served by your money being spent on the poor in the hospital. What does a poor friar like myself want with furniture?”
He wore the same habit that he had received in the novitiate, mending it himself. The canons and domestics were ashamed of him, but they could not convince him to change. Several hundred poor came to Thomas’s door each morning and received a meal, wine, and money. When criticized because he was at times being taken advantage of, he replied, “If there are people who refuse to work, that is for the governor and the police to deal with. My duty is to assist and relieve those who come to my door.” He took in orphans and paid his servants for every deserted child they brought to him. He encouraged the wealthy to imitate his example and be richer in mercy and charity than they were in earthly possessions.
Criticized because he refused to be harsh or swift in correcting sinners, he said, “Let him (the complainer) inquire whether Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom used anathemas and excommunication to stop the drunkenness and blasphemy which were so common among the people under their care.”
As he lay dying, Thomas commanded that all the money he possessed be distributed to the poor. His material goods were to be given to the rector of his college. Mass was being celebrated in his presence when after Communion he breathed his last, reciting the words: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
Thomas of Villanova was already called in his lifetime “the almsgiver” and “the father of the poor.” He was canonized in 1658.
Symbols: open purse; wallet; bishop's mitre; book; bag of coins.
The absent-minded professor is a stock comic figure. Thomas of Villanova earned even more derisive laughs with his determined shabbiness and his willingness to let the poor who flocked to his door take advantage of him. He embarrassed his peers, but Jesus was enormously pleased with him. We are often tempted to tend our image in others’ eyes without paying sufficient attention to how we look to Christ. Thomas still urges us to rethink our priorities.
Quotes of St. Thomas of Villanova
If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg. To make them ask for alms is to make them buy it. -St. Thomas of Villanova
Humility is the mother of many virtues because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born. He who is humble easily obeys everyone, fears to offend anyone, is at peace with everyone, is kind with all. -St. Thomas of Villanova
What great profit you gain from God when you are generous! You give a coin and receive a kingdom; you give bread from wheat and receive the Bread of Life; you give a transitory good and receive an everlasting one. You will receive it back, a hundred times more than you offered. -Thomas of Villanova
Prayer of St. Thomas of Villanova
I will love you, Lord, in every way and without setting limits to my love. You set no limits to what you have done for me; you have not measured out your gifts. I will not measure out my love. I will love you, Lord, with all my strength, with all my powers, as much as I am able.
Prayer to Saint Thomas of Villanova
God our Father we praise and thank you for giving us your faithful servant Saint Thomas of Villanova to be our model in humility, simplicity and charity. Through his intercession, look kindly upon us your children, bless us and keep us from all harm, deliver us from all evil and guide us to the path that leads to you. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.