During Pope Benedict XVI’s August 2011 visit to Madrid for World Youth Day, he told seminarians gathered at that city’s Almudena Cathedral that he would declare St. John of Avila the 34th Doctor of the Church. Who is this saint and what did he do to deserve such an honor?
After that announcement, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi described St. John of Avila (1500-1569) as “a great master of priestly spirituality” and an important influence on Spanish saints such as Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.
The pope told the seminarians that he was responding to the request of the Spanish bishops and added: “In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination.
“I invite everyone to look to St. John of Avila and I commend to his intercession the bishops of Spain and those of the whole world, as well as all priests and seminarians. As they persevere in the same faith which he taught, may they model their hearts on that of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, to whom be glory and honor forever. Amen.”
Doctors of the Church are saints who have had a lasting influence on Catholic theology and practice through their preaching and writings. Recent examples include Catherine of Siena (1970), Teresa of Avila (1970), Thérèse of Lisieux (1997), and Hildegard of Bingen (2012).
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, John of Avila originally studied law at the University of Salamanca and was sole heir to a family fortune. After ordination he distributed his money to the poor and intended to become a missionary in Mexico. The archbishop of Seville persuaded him to be a missionary in Andalusia.
Accused of heresy, John was cleared by the Inquisition in 1533. He encouraged diocesan priests to teach in colleges that he founded. John helped the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to spread in Spain. His mystical writings have been translated into other languages. John was beatified in 1894 and canonized in 1970.