The Law Professor Who Became a Saint

Few law students would think of any of their professors as saints. Nevertheless, one such professor did attain the status of sainthood. His name was Turibius of Mogrovejo, and he was born in Spain to a prominent family in 1538. Too few know of the remarkable story of this holy lawyer made bishop.

Turibius graduated with a law degree from Spain’s celebrated University of Salamanca, and spent many years at his alma mater teaching law. While teaching law, he was named by King Philip II chief judge of the ecclesiastical court of the Inquisition in Granada. In 1581, Turibius was tapped against his will to be the Archbishop of Lima, Peru, a mission territory. In their¬†Lives of the Saints,¬†Alban Butler and Herbert Thurston explain that “he seemed to be the one person who had force of character sufficient to remedy the serious scandals which stood in the way of the conversion of the Peruvians.” Like Saint Ambrose, Turibius was then a layman, and was quickly ordained a priest and bishop before he undertook the lengthy boat trip to Peru, landing some 600 miles from Lima.

The Archdiocese was comprised of approximately 170,000 square miles, and was then experiencing both secular and clerical scandals. Turibius spent 26 years in Peru, during which time he made three lengthy walking visitations of the entire diocese, teaching the native population, whose cause he championed against repression and discrimination, as well as the Spanish settlers. In his visitations, he learned the natives’ languages, and baptized about half a million souls, including future saints Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres. He also began the first seminary in the Americas, reformed the clergy, held councils of the priests and other bishops in his diocese, arranged for the construction of schools and hospitals,and gave alms to the poor and needy, often going without food himself.

Turibius died at the age of 68 during his third visitation of the diocese, after traveling for some 14 months. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726, and his feast day is celebrated on March 23. Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni commissioned a painting of the new saint, The Miracle of Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, by Sebastiano Conca. The painting is now housed in the Vatican Museums in Rome. It celebrates a miracle attributed to Turibius in which he struck a dried up riverbed which was critical for the water supply to a town. The waters immediately began to flow in the shape of a cross.

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