St. John of Avila, a Doctor-to-Be?

Interview With Translator of a Book on the Patron of Spanish Clergy

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ROME, JUNE 23, 2004 ( The Church might soon have a new Doctor, St. John of Avila.

This is what one of the promoters of this proposal, Friar José Luis Martínez of the Hospitaller Order, expects. Father Martínez, who for years has been a pharmacist in the Vatican, has just published the first translation from Latin to Spanish of John of Avila’s process of beatification.

John of Avila was born in Almodovar del Campo, near Toledo, Spain, circa 1499. He was ordained a priest in 1526 and gave away all his property to the poor.

He moved to Seville with the intention of going as a missionary to Latin America. But Archbishop Don Alonso de Manrique ordered him «by precept of holy obedience» to stay in Seville to evangelize. He preached, heard confessions and wrote.

In 1537 he was instrumental in the conversion of John of God and in 1539 in that of Francis of Borgia. In 1539 he began to found schools. Eventually there were 15, including a university in Baeza.

In 1560 he withdrew to Montilla, where he died on May 10, 1569.

Q: In translating the process of beatification of this saint, what impressed you most about his life and example?

Father Martínez: As I transcribed the process of beatification, I was impressed by his total dedication to the service of the Church and the salvation of souls — with unbounded generosity.

He led a very austere life, committed and without compromises, while at the same time being close to the needs of men, primarily the poor and needy, which merited his fame as the «apostle of Andalusia.»

His life was a complete self-giving to God. He had the poverty of a great priest who lived in simplicity. When he was offered the office of archbishop of Granada, bishop of Segovia, or the cardinal’s hat by Paul IV, out of humility he refused them all.

The manuscript is enormous — over 3,200 pages. It was very hard to write; today it is a great joy to be able to offer this service to the Church on behalf of, and as a contribution of, the Hospitaller Order and of the general superior, Father Pascual Piles, to the cause.

Q: Why was St. John of Avila chosen as patron of the Spanish clergy?

Father Martínez: He was a master of priests; he lived in community with those who followed him. Both in the intellectual realm as well as in religious formation, he had a very good theological foundation, fruit of his studies at the Universities of Salamanca and Alcala de Henares with the best professors of his time.

He dedicated all his life to priestly service and ministry in the Church, leading a life of integrity and being a perfect example. While still alive, he was a model for priests and has been justifiably proclaimed patron of the clergy.

He was always regarded as a saint and exemplary model for priests, as can be appreciated in the process of beatification and canonization. This is why the Church did not hesitate to propose him as patron of the Spanish clergy.

Master Avila — a man brimming with doctrine and virtues, so recognized when he was alive, when he was already called the apostle of Andalusia — had a profound theological-religious formation. As a child, seminarian and priest he was always outstanding as an irreproachable, integral person totally given to God.

Bishops, dukes, marquises, priests, religious, lay people, and the civil and influential authorities of the day consulted him. He had wise advice for them all.

He was devoted to learning, culture, catechesis, popular missions; he was the great apostle of the latter. He was all that an apostle stands for. And he was a great adviser to saints, including St. Peter of Alcantara, St. Alonso of Orozco, St. Thomas of Villanueva.

Q: What is the relation between this saint and the St. John of God Hospitaller Order, to which you belong?

Father Martínez: St. John of God, founder of the Hospitaller Order, heard him preach a splendid and fervent sermon on January 20, 1534, in Granada. He was converted and decided to implement what Master Avila advised him to do. That same day he began to give spiritual direction to the Hospitaller saint until the end of his life.

St. John of Avila is a notable benefactor of the Hospitallers. The saint himself was asked for alms for the hospital in Granada. St. John of God was one of the saints who worked with and was closest to Master Avila.

Q: How can the figure of this Spanish saint be better known?

Father Martínez: He is an outstanding figure and master of spirituality, with a profound, sure and certain doctrine for the spiritual journey.

The best thing is to read his works, to know his life, and to publish it by every possible means, including the translations of his works.

The process for the Pope to proclaim him a Doctor of the Church is very advanced and practically finished. There is a Spanish episcopal commission responsible for seeing this nomination through.

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