Thomas of Villanova (1486-1555) was known for his promotion of studies and missions in the Order of Saint Augustine, and for his love and care for the poor.
Thomas García Martínez was born in 1486 in Fuenllana, Ciudad Real, Spain. He spent his childhood in the family home in Villanova de los Infantes.
A gifted student, Thomas entered the University of Alcalá at the age of 15. He earned a degree in Theology in a very short time, and was asked to join the faculty of this famous university.
His reputation as an excellent teacher spread, and the prestigious University of Salamanca offered Thomas a professorship in 1516. He refused the position, instead seeking admission into the Order of Saint Augustine.
He professed his vows as an Augustinian in 1517 and was ordained a Priest in 1518. Recognizing his leadership ability, his fellow Augustinians chose him to serve as Prior (local superior) and later as Provincial (regional superior). In this position, Thomas encouraged a more faithful adherence to the principles of Augustinian life. He also promoted missionary activity by Augustinians in the New World.
Thomas grew into a deeply spiritual life. He lived simply, giving away the small fortune that he inherited from his parents.
Asked to become Bishop of Granada, Thomas refused, preferring the simple life to a life of power and prestige. Several years later, Thomas was asked to become Bishop of Valencia. When he refused again, the authorities persuaded Thomas’ religious superiors to order him under his vow of obedience to accept.
He reluctantly accepted, and became Archbishop of Valencia in 1545. There he found an archdiocese in spiritual chaos. He began his episcopacy by visiting every parish in the Archdiocese to discover what were the needs of the people. He then set up programs in which funds provided by the wealthy would help to provide for the poor.
In order to have a well-formed clergy, Thomas started Presentation Seminary in 1550. He established schools where the young would have access to a quality education. He turned his own home into a sort of soup kitchen and shelter, giving to the poor and the homeless food to eat and a place to sleep. For that reason he was known as Beggar Bishop and Father of the Poor.
Thomas became ill in 1551. As his illness progressed and he grew weaker, he gave away all of his remaining possessions. He died September 8, 1555 in Valencia. His remains are preserved at the Cathedral there.