Saint of the Day – 19 October – Blessed Thomas Hélye (c 1180-1257) Priest, Penitent, Teacher, Missionary and renowned Preacher. Patronage – Biville, France.
Thomas Hélye was born between 1180 and 1187 in the hamlet of Gardin in the Parish of Saint-Pierre de Biville, France. Thomas’s parents, Hélye and Mathilde, were of modest means.
After having studied with the Benedictine monks of the priories of Vauville and Héauville and with the Augustinian canons of the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Vœu. In 1206, he became the Principal of the School of Cherbourg. He excelled in his talents as a teacher and was promoted to Governor of the schools of the region.
Following a serious illness which led him to the gates of death, he experienced a true conversion. Retiring to his brother, a Priest Fr Guillaume, in the hamlet of Gardin in his native parish of Biville, he led a life of penance. He neglected his person and concentrated solely on prayer, fasting and mortification.
In 1226, having learnt of his conduct, the Bishop of Coutances – Hugues de Morville – summoned him and encouraged him to consider his future. He made pilgrimages to Rome and Santiago de Compostella and thereafter, studied theology in Paris for four years. There his Professor and Confessor, both future cardinals, were impressed by his piety.
In 1235 he was Ordained a Priest by the Bishop of Morville. The Bishops of Coutances and Avranches who had noted his preaching abilities and his great desire to envanglise and teach the faithful, then entrusted him with a missionary ministry as an itinerant preacher. For twenty-two years, Thomas visited all the parishes of these diocese. He was greeted with fervour by the crowds with cries of “Here is the saint!” Here is the man of God! ”
At the end of his life, weakened by his privations and tireless missionary travels, Thomas Hélye retired to the manor of his friend Gauvain, Lord of Vauville . He died there on 19 October 1257. The next day, his body was taken to his native parish in neighbouring Biville supported by a huge crowd of mourners.
In 1794, his relics were hidden to prevent their destruction during the persecutions of the French Revolution. In 1910 his glass coffin was enclosed in a marble sarcophagus. If you look carefully at the photograph below, you will see a marble slab with a relief of Blessed Thomas. This slab covered the original tomb and has now been reset into the wall. The sarcophagus resides in the choir of the St Peters in Biville where he is venerated by many pilgrims and where many miracles have been reported. During the annual festivals of his feast day, pilgrims come from all over the region.