St. John of Ávila (1499-1569)
Feast: May 10
The saint behind saints, John of Ávila is the little-known influence behind Spanish mystics such as Teresa of Ávila, John of God and Ignatius of Loyola. He is also a Doctor of the Church.
John was born in Spain to wealthy parents who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism. They sent him to study law at age 14, but he left without finishing in 1517 to pursue priestly formation. Both of his parents died while John was still a student, and he celebrated his first Mass after ordination in the church where they were buried. He donated his fortune to charity.
John’s deep passion for ministry had him seeking opportunities for missionary work. While awaiting departure from Seville to Mexico, he caught the attention of the archbishop, who convinced him to abandon his trip to stay in Spain. Not long after, John gave his first sermon, which established his reputation and filled churches.
The hours he spent deep in prayer and cultivating a mystical life close to the Lord were reflected in his external life: He wrote multiple volumes of spiritual writings, as well as letters to other Spanish mystics that encouraged and guided them in their own prayer lives. He became known as the Apostle of Andalusia for the extensive ministry he performed in that region of Spain.
John worked tirelessly to reform the clergy and catechize the laity, and he established schools and universities throughout Spain. He was the rector of one university which became a model for Jesuit schools and seminaries.
John died from an illness in 1569 and was canonized by Pope St. Paul VI in 1970. In 2012, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI.
By Candace Bryant-Lester | Art by Matt Watters