Apostolic preacher, author (1500-1569)
John of Avila, BLESSED, apostolic preacher of Andalusia and author, b. at Almodovar del Campo, a small town in the diocese of Toledo, Spain, January 6,1500; d. at Montilla, May 10, 1569. At the age of fourteen he was sent to the University of Salamanca to study law. Conceiving a distaste for jurisprudence he returned after a year to his father's home, where he spent the next three years in the practice of most austere piety. His wonderful sanctity impressed a Franciscan journeying through Almodovar, and at the friar's advice he took up the study of philosophy and theology at Alcald, where he was fortunate to have as his teacher the famous Dominican De Soto. His parents died while he was a student and after his ordination he celebrated his first Mass in the church where they were buried, sold the family property and gave the proceeds to the poor. He saw in the severing of natural ties a vocation to foreign missionary work and made preparation to go to Mexico in America. While awaiting, at Seville in 1527, a favorable opportunity to start for his new field of labor, his extraordinary devotion in celebrating Mass attracted the attention of Hernando de Contreras, a priest of Seville, who reported his observations to the archbishop and general inquisitor, Don Alphonso Manrique. The archbishop saw in the young missionary a powerful instrument to stir up the faith of Andalusia, and after considerable persuasion Blessed John was induced to abandon his journey to America. His first sermon was preached on July 22, 1529, and immediately his reputation was established; crowds thronged the churches at all his sermons. His success, however, brought with it the hatred of a certain class, and while living at Seville he was brought before the inquisitor and charged with exaggerating the dangers of wealth and closing the gates of heaven to the rich. His innocence of the charges was speedily proved, and by special invitation of the court he was appointed to preach the sermon on the next great feast in the church of San Salvador, in Seville. His appearance was a cause of public rejoicing. He began his career as apostolic preacher of Andalusia at the age of thirty. After nine years in that province he returned to Seville only to depart for the wider fields of Cordova, Granada, Bolza, Montilla, and Zafra. For eighteen years before his death he was the victim of constant illness, the result of the hardships of his apostolate of forty years. He was declared Venerable by Clement XIII, February 8, 1799, and beatified by Leo XIII, November 12, 1893.
Among the disciples drawn to him by his preaching and saintly reputation may be named St. Theresa, St. John of God, St. Francis Borgia, and Ven. Louis of Granada. The spread of the Jesuits in Spain is attributed to his friendship for that body. Blessed John of Avila's works were collected at Madrid in 1618, 1757, 1792, 1805; a French translation by d'Andilly was published at Paris in 1673; and a German translation by Schermer in six volumes was issued at Ratisbon between 1856 and 1881. His best known works are the "Audi Fili" (English translation, 1620), one of the best tracts on Christian perfection, and his "Spiritual Letters" (English translation, 1631, London, 1904) to his disciples.