Thomas of Olera in the Tyrol
Thomas of Olera (also known as Fra Tommaso or Friar Thomas) lived from 1563 to 1631 and came from Olera in the Lombardian Alps. He was a shepherd boy and the only education he received was imparted to him by his mother in the evening. At the age of 17 he entered the Capuchin Order. He and fellow friars later travelled to North Tyrol to spread the teachings of the Capuchin Order in the German-speaking region. For 30 years Thomas of Olera strove for reconciliation und fought against the split in the Catholic Church. That is why he was given the name Holy Brother of the Tyrol. He is buried in the Capuchin Church in Innsbruck and was beatified in Bergamo on 21 September 2013.
His life and workings in the region
Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595) founded the Capuchin Monastery in Innsbruck in 1593. In 1594, Suffragan Bishop Georg Benigni from Bressanone dedicated the church to St. Francis. In 1606, the general district of the Tyrol was elevated to a Province. The archduke had heard of the Capuchins from Rovereto and wanted the friars to settle in Innsbruck. At the same time, the Servites (Order of Friar Servants of Mary) also expanded their community to Innsbruck. It is said that Friar Thomas was in the Alpine town on the river Inn when the Tyrol became a Province. From a political viewpoint, it was a very eventful time due to tensions and religious conflict. Many salt workers from Hall and miners from Schwarz converted to the Protestant faith and accepted the Augsburg Confession. Lutherism spread particularly in the Inn valley. But Catholic beliefs were upheld by the Habsburg regents, nobles loyal to the Emperor, Jesuit priests and the Capuchin friars whose activities soon spread. In the Imperial and Royal House of Secular Canonesses in Hall, founded in 1567 by Archduchess Magdalena (1532-1590), a sister of Emperor Ferdinand II, there lived the two daughters of Archduke Karl II: Maria Christerna (1574-1621) and Eleonora (1582-1620). Friar Thomas wrote several letters to the two ladies, admonishing them to be loyal to their faith and to love God. Brother Thomas also corresponded with the three daughters of Emperor Ferdinand II, Magdalena, Helene and Margareta. He was also on friendly terms with Archduke Leopold V. For him, Friar Thomas was a mystic of the Catholic reformation, a spiritual advisor to the Court in Innsbruck. Leopold and his wife Claudia of Medici allowed the Capuchin friar to come to their residence at any time of the day. The archduke also visited the devout friar in his Spartan monastery cell several times.
Construction of St. Charles Church (Karlskirche)
Hippolyt Guarinoni (1571-1654), an extremely influential and highly respected doctor, also lived and worked in the region at the time of Friar Thomas. In 1611, the town of Hall was not hit by the plague which devastated most of the Tyrol and it was for this reason that Dr. Guarinoni wanted to have a votive church built. Years went by but he did not execute his plans. Friar Thomas urged him to finally start building the church dedicated to Saint Charles Borromaeus, Saint Ignatius and Saint Francisca Romana at Volders bridge. The construction proved to be difficult and took from 1620 to 1654, but finally the Bruggnkirche (bridge church) was completed on the River Inn. It is a baroque building with six domes and a round tower – almost like a Russian Orthodox cathedral. The construction was not only delayed by the turmoil of the 30-year war (1618-1648) but also by the great poverty of the people. As predicted by Friar Thomas, Dr. Guarinoni lived to see the completion of the church. He then died a quick death and was laid to rest in St. Charles Church which he had donated. Many followers criticised that the splendid church had been built too close to the Inn. They thought it was endangered by flooding. Friar Thomas reassured them in a letter: ‘There is no doubt that God will take good care of the church; and the saints that it is consecrated to will be its guardians…’ Never in its 350-year history has the church been damaged by flood water from the River Inn. When the Inn valley motorway was built, the river was moved away from the church and the motorway runs between the river and the House of God.
Beatification in 2013
In 2000, the Bishop of Bergamo wrote a letter to the Pope requesting that Fra Tommaso be inscribed on the List of Saints. Relics of Thomas of Olera were removed from his burial niche in the Capuchin Church in Innsbruck in a solemn ceremony shortly before Easter 2012. Thomas of Olera worked as a religious counsellor and preacher in Innsbruck the last 13 years of his life. The mortal remains of Friar Thomas of Olera are buried in the Capuchin Church. His tomb can be visited at any time.
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Capuchin Church / Kapuzinerkirche