Saint of the Day – 31 October – Blessed Thomas Bellacci TOSF (1370-1447) Lay Friar of the Third Order of St Francis, Penitent, Confessor, renowned Missionary Preacher, Papal legate – born as Tommaso in 1370 at Florence, Italy and died on 31 October 1447 in Rieti, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – butchers, penitents, missionaries. He is also known as Thomas of Florence, Tommaso Bellacci. Blessed Thomas is venerated by the Franciscans on 25 October.
Bellacci was a butcher and became a religious after turning his life around from one of sin to one of penance and servitude to God. He travelled across the Middle East and the Italian peninsula to preach the Gospel and against heresies. He drew many young men to follow in his path of penitence.
Tommaso Bellacci was born in Florence in 1370 in the neighbourhood of the Ponte alle Grazie. His parents came from Castello di Linari in Val d’Elsa. His father was a butcher. He got into a good deal of trouble on various occasions during his youth and led such a wild and dissolute life as an adolescent, that parents warned their sons to keep their distance from him. Persuaded by a friend to change his ways, he tried to enter some religious order but found strong resistance to being accepted. He became a butcher like his father.
Bellacci was accused of having committed a serious crime in 1400, which, in fact he had not committed and so, he wandered the streets of Florence in great turmoil and fear, until he met a Priest who listened to his story, took him in and helped clear his name. The incident shocked him so much – coupled with his great gratitude to the Priest – that he shed his life of sin and decided to live a life of total penance and service to God. He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis in Fiesole under the spiritual guidance of Friar Giovanni da Stronconio. He entered as a lay brother Friar and became noted for keeping vigils and fasting. He was known for his diet of water and vegetables.
So great was Thomas’ adherence to the literal interpretation and implementation of the Franciscan Rule, that he was made the Novice Master, despite the fact that he was not a Priest. In this role, he led by example. He became part of the Observant reform and in 1414 accompanied another Friar to Naples to introduce the Observant practice in the Franciscan houses there. He remained in Naples for six years, preaching and helping to spread the reform.
After his sojourn and work in Naples, Thomas founded Monasteries in Corscia. Pope Martin V called him to preach in the northern cities against the “Fraticelli” who were a group of heretical Franciscans and was also made Vicar General at the Pope’s behest. In 1438, he and Albert Berdini of Sarteano were sent to the Middle East to cities such as Damascus and Cairo in order to promote the reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches when he was over 70. Alberto had to return home due to his ill health which left Bellacci to continue the mission alone.
He attempted to travel to Ethiopia but the Turks captured him three times. The Florentine merchants helped to secure his release twice. The third time he was again captured and suffered enslavement and persecution for several years, by now, he was perhaps in his eighties. Pope Eugene IV helped secure his release. He returned home in 1444 and spent his time in a Convent in Abruzzo until he died in 1446.
Nevertheless, Thomas still wished to return to the Orient but he died in Rieti while on a visit to Rome to request the Pope’s permission to return there.
Thomas was Beatified by Pope Clement XIV in 1771.