Feast Day: January 28th
Patron of: Students and Universities
Thomas was born in 1225 to a wealthy family. Since he was the youngest son, he was expected to enter the monastery. His education began at the ripe age of 5 at Monte Cassino and there he remained until the military conflict at the time reached the abbey. He was then transferred and enrolled at the studium generale in Naples. There he was influenced by John of St. Julian to join the Dominican Order. When Thomas’ family learned of his decision to join, they did everything in their power to persuade him otherwise. First, they sent his older brothers to kidnap him. When that didn’t work, they hired a prostitute to seduce him. After Thomas sent the prostitute off, two angels appeared to him in a dream and helped strengthen his resolve to remain celibate. When it was clear nothing was going to stop Thomas from joining the order, his mother helped him escape. Better for her that the family think he escaped than them learning she accepted his decision.
In 1244, Thomas met the Master General for the Dominican Order, Johnannes von Wildeshausen. Within the next year he also met Albertus Mangus, chair of theology at College of St. James. He followed Mangus to the new studium generale at Cologne and was appointed magister studentium. There he taught as an apprentice professor, teaching students on the books of the Old Testament. During this time, he wrote Exposito super Isaiam ad litteram, Postilla super leremiam, and Postilla super Thernos. In 1252, he returned to Paris to earn his master’s degree in theology. He lectured on the Bible and devoted his final three years of education to Peter Lomnard’s Sentences. He composed a commentary on Sentences, titled Scriptum super libros Sententiarium and wrote De ente et essentia. In September 1261 he finished one of his most famous works, Summa contra Gentiles.
In 1265, Thomas was summoned to Rome to serve as the papal theologian and was later ordered by the Domincan Chapter of Agnani to teach at the studium conventuale, which was the first school to teach the full range of philosophical subjects of both moral and natural natures. While teaching, Thomas wrote his most famous work, Summa theologiae, which he believed was particularly useful to beginning students, “because a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners” In 1268 he was called to Paris for a second teaching regency and was named regent master again and stayed until 1272. At the conclusion of this regency, the Dominicans called Thomas to establish a university wherever he wanted with a staff of whomever he wished. He established the university in Naples and took the regent master post. In 1273 Thomas was seen by the sacristan Domenic of Castera to be crying and levitating in prayer before an icon of the crucified Christ at the Domincan Convent of Naples, in the Chapel of Saint Nicholas. During this prayer, Christ is said to have told him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord.” After this exchange, Thomas abandoned his work and when he was begged to return, replied, “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me”. In May of 1274, Thomas was called to the Second Council of Lyon, where his works for Pope Urban IV would be presented. While journeying to the meeting, Thomas hit his head on the branch of a fallen tree and fell ill. He was escorted to Monte Cassino to recover, then set out again. He became ill again and stopped at Cistercian Fossanova Abbey, where he was taken care of for several days. He received his last rites and prayed, “I receive Thee, ransom of my soul. For love of Thee have I studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached, and taught…” Thomas died on March 7th, 1274.
He turned down Pope Innocent IV’s offer to appoint him abbot of Monte Cassino as a Dominican.
Students thought he was mentally delayed because he seldom spoke at the university while at Cologne. Mangus prophetically said, "You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching, he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world."
His feast day used to be on March 7th, but since this date often falls within Lent, in 1969, a revision of the Roman Calendar changed his feast day to January 28, the date his relics were moved to Toulouse.