Biography of Our Patron
We at St. Thomas Aquinas parish are fortunate to have as our patron one of the most influential and holy saints the Catholic Church has ever produced.
St. Thomas Aquinas is known as the greatest philosopher and theologian of the intellectually rich 13thcentury, and for many hundreds of years the work of this Patron Saint of Catholic Schools dominated the curriculum of seminaries and colleges around the world.
He has been called one of the most profound teachers on Eucharistic doctrine, not only expounding on the mysterious processes in which bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ, but coining the word transubstantiation used to describe it. And, because he wrote not only for scholars but also for the simple Catholic worshiper down the ages, the church has officially accorded him the titles “Angelic,” “Common” and “Universal Doctor of the Church.”
Although not definitively known, it is generally believed Thomas Aquinas was born about the year 1225 at the castle of his father, the Count of Aquino, in Rocca Secca near Naples, Italy. A precocious child, he amazed his teachers at the Monastery of Monte Cassino, where he received his early education, with one persistent question: “What is God?” It was a question he would reflect upon all his life.
When attending the University of Naples, he was attracted to the intellectual apostolate of the Dominican Friars and joined the order. Outraged at his rejection of their own plans for him to become a prestigious abbot, and looking down on Dominicans as beggars, his aristocratic family kidnapped him on his way to Paris and imprisoned him at Rocca Secca. It took almost two years and the intercession of the Pope and the Emperor before his family finally gave up and allowed him to rejoin the Dominicans.
St. Albert the Great, who taught him Aristotelian philosophy at Paris and Cologne, soon spotted his genius and became his mentor. When Thomas was nicknamed the “Dumb Ox” by his classmates, most likely because of his bulky frame and quiet manner, Albert prophesied: “You call him a dumb ox, but I tell you this dumb ox will bellow so loudly that his bellowing will fill the world.”
Indeed, this master teacher attracted thousands of people to his public lectures, compiled more than 20 volumes of work, was consulted by popes and a king (Louis IX), and showed that one could use pure reason, not faith, to defend theological tenets such as the existence of God. His greatest work, theSumma Theologica (Summary of Theology), which he began in 1265, is, according to the OxfordDictionary of Saints, a comprehensive treatise on all the Christian mysteries.
Despite his reputation as a thinker, Thomas remained a humble, devout priest who resisted attempts to make him a bishop, fasted frequently, and spent whole nights in prayer. He told his intimate friend, St. Bonaventure, that it was while he leaned his head against the tabernacle and turned his mind in sorrow to the image of the crucified Christ, that he derived all his learning.
Once, when Thomas was lost in prayer while living in the Dominican priory in Naples, a sacristan concealed himself to watch. He saw Thomas lifted into the air and heard Christ speak to him from the crucifix on the chapel wall, “Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?”
“Lord, nothing but yourself,” he heard Thomas reply.
Soon after, while saying Mass on December 6, 1273 in that same chapel, Thomas had a profound revelation. He told his longtime secretary that compared to this experience, “All that I have written seems like straw to me.”
After that, he never wrote again, leaving his Summa Theologica unfinished.
On the day of Thomas’ passing, March 7, 1274, Albert the Great, then in Cologne, suddenly broke into tears among the community and exclaimed, “Brother Thomas Aquinas, my son in Christ, the light of the Church, is dead! God has revealed it to me.”
As a parish faith community, we celebrate our patron’s Feast Day on the Saturday evening closest to January 28, the day when the universal church honors this great man of faith.
--Joanne C. Schmidt
NB: A first-class relic of St. Thomas Aquinas is currently housed in our Divine Mercy Chapel.