There are, for many of us, people who have served as models and inspiration in our own lives, and, at times, in the choices we make. The friar whom we remember today, Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, has been for Augustinians throughout most of our history, such a model, illustrating the ideals we strive after in our religious lives and ministry. The saints, after all, have no need of our praise. We, however, have need of their example, encouragement and intercession.
Nicholas is the first member of the Order to have been canonised, and for much of the Order's history served as the model - par excellence - of the perfect integration of a life of contemplation with that of active ministry among God's people. He was born in 1245 in Sant'Angelo in Pontano, Italy, and joined the Order there shortly after the Grand Union. The early years of his life as a friar were devoted to preaching in various houses of his province, but his last thirty years were spent in Tolentino, where he was engaged principally as confessor, benefactor of the poor and diligent minister to the sick. Nicholas was a man filled with compassion and charity towards his brothers in the monastery, great hospitality to visitors and generous attention to all in need. At the same time his life of prayer and recollection, of penance and fidelity to the common life won the admiration of all. His devotion to the faithful departed and his prayers for their salvation earned him the title Patron of the Souls in Purgatory. Nicholas died on September 10, 1305 and his body is venerated in his Basilica in Tolentino. He was canonised by Eugene IV in 1446.
Nicholas holds a special place on our calendar and in our history, not only because he was the first member of the Order to be canonised, but because he exemplifies well the balance between two essential elements of Christian - and Augustinian - life: love of God and love of neighbour; prayer ad good works; and for friars, a life of contemplation combined with a life of generous service in ministry.