Tag Archives: Catholic Saints

St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456), Priest

October 23, 2015


capostranoSt. John of Capistrano is well known in the United States as San Juan Capistrano, his Spanish name, which is also the name for one of the most popular California missions, the seventh mission founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1776.  Father Serra, a Franciscan himself, named a number of the California missions after Franciscan saints for whom he had a special devotion.

St. John was born in Capistrano in the Abruzzi region of Italy in 1386.  He was brilliant, studied law in Perugia, and became the governor of the city in 1412 at the young age of 26.  He was also married.  A war broke out between Perugia and Malatesta, he was captured and imprisoned.  His confinement was a time of intense prayer.  St. John reported that he had a vision in which St. Francis of Assisi appeared to him and invited him to join his religious order.  Upon his release, he petitioned for a dispensation from his marriage so he could enter religious life.

St. John entered the Order of the Friars Minor (OFM), the Franciscans, in 1416, and he was blessed to study under St. Bernardine of Siena.  He was ordained to the priesthood in 1420.

St. John was one of the greatest preachers Europe has ever known.  He traveled extensively and drew crowds that numbered in thousands to listen to his sermons.  His double purpose was to exhort Christians to live holier lives and to fight against heretical teaching.

There was inner strife among the Franciscans between the Observant, the Spiritual, or the stricter friars and the Conventual, the Relaxed, or the more lenient friars when it came to poverty.  St. John made attempts at reform and reconciliation that were resisted and had disappointing results.  He was a contrite penitent and strict with himself, an ascetic:  he went about barefoot, wore a hairshirt, and deprived himself of food and sleep.

St. John had a reputation for a fiery style and tremendous toughness, and was commissioned to undertake a variety of papal diplomatic missions.  In 1426 he was appointed by Pope Martin V as the Inquisitor in the proceedings against the heretical Fraticelli; in 1439 he was sent to Milan and Burgundy to refute antipope Felix V; in 1446 he was sent as a special envoy to the King of France; and in 1451 he was appointed by Pope Nicholas V to go to Vienna, Austria, to fight against John Hus and the Hussite heresy, and as Inquisitor, he took stern, harsh measures against them.  In 1452 he was appointed Commissioner General for Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, and he preached widely throughout the region with much success.

In 1453 the Turks conquered Constantinople, and subsequently he was asked by Pope Pius II to preach a crusade against the Turks.  While his preaching roused little support in Austria and Bavaria, he had outstanding results in Hungary which was under the threat of imminent attack.  St. John personally led the left wing of the Christian army in the Battle of Belgrade of 1456, while Janos Hunyady led the right wing.  The Hungarian army inflicted severe losses upon the Turks, fended off the Muslim advance, and saved not only Belgrade but Christian Europe.  After the battle thousands of bodies were left unburied and disease was rampant.  St. John walked among the corpses, contracted the plague, and died at Villach, Austria, on October 23, 1456.  He was canonized in 1690 and is the patron saint of military chaplains and lawyers.

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Saints Cosmas and Damian, martyrs

September 26, 2015


CosmasDamienMore Legend than History.  There is very little accurate historical information about Sts. Cosmas and Damian, but their legend has been popular and revered over the centuries.  As the story goes, Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, born in Arabia sometime in the early to mid-Third Century.

Medical Doctors.  Cosmas and Damian were both devout Christians.  They moved to Syria where they studied medicine.  They settled in Aegeae, Cilicia, in Syria, where they developed outstanding reputations as highly skilled and effective physicians.  They considered their work an extension of the healing ministry of Jesus, the Divine Physician, and an act of Christian charity for their patients.  They were devoted to their patients and treated them with exceptional kindness and compassion.  Not only did they use their medical knowledge and techniques for their benefit, they also prayed for them.  Many were cured of their afflictions due to both their treatments and their prayers.  They also were a source of spiritual comfort and peace.  Some of their healings were so remarkable that they were considered miracles.  They gave of themselves generously and selflessly, charged no fees for their services, and consequently in the Eastern Church they became known as the anargyroi, Greek for the “moneyless ones.”

Arrest and Martyrdom.  Both Cosmas and Damian were open and vocal about their belief in Jesus, and as a result they were arrested during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution against Christians. They were forcibly taken before Lysias, the governor of Cilicia, who had them tortured first.  They survived attempts to drown, burn, and stone them, and they were finally beheaded.  They were put to death along with their three brothers:  Anthimus, Euprepius, and Leonitis.  The date of their martyrdom is disputed, variously reported to have been in 287, 300, or 303 AD.  Their remains were entombed in nearby Cyrrhus, Syria.

Expanding Devotion.  Cosmas and Damian were held in such high regard that a basilica was built in their honor over their tombs in Cyrrhus.  As the story of their heroic faith continued to spread, other major churches were built in their name.  A major church was erected in Constantinople during the Fifth Century.  A pagan temple in the Roman Forum was converted to the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian during the Sixth Century and, at the direction of Pope Felix IV (526-530), their relics were transferred from Syria to the basilica in Rome.  Devotion to Cosmas and Damian continued to extend widely, particularly to Greece and Russia, and throughout Eastern Europe.  Their names are mentioned in the first martyrology in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Intercessory Roles.  St. Luke is the best known patron saint of physicians, and he is joined by Sts. Comas and Damian, as well as St. Pantaleon.  Sts. Cosmas and Damian are also the patron saints of surgeons, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, barbers, and the blind.

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Reasons that I’m a big fan of Saint Junipero Serra

September 18, 2015

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Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Initial Acquaintance.  My first encounter with then-Blessed Junipero Serra was when I was a Crosier religious brother on a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, in the 1980’s.  I have a special devotion to the Cross, and I had an aunt, now deceased, Sister Mary Eve Goering, O.S.F., who was a Franciscan Sister of Little Falls, so the Franciscans have a dear place in my heart.  There, above the entrance to the La Casa Retreat House in Mesa was a statue of Father Serra holding a Latin Cross and dressed in a Franciscan habit.  I liked him right away!

Similar Journeys.  As I learned more about St. Junipero Serra’s life story, I discovered that we have some things in common.  Father Serra had strong Catholic parents; so do I.  He often attended daily Mass, was an altar server, and attended a Catholic school; and so did I.  I started discerning a vocation to religious life at twelve or thirteen; he started at fifteen.  Father Serra entered the Franciscans at seventeen; I entered the Crosiers at twenty.  He was a college professor for eight years; I was a high school teacher for sixteen years.

The Major Similarity.  Father Serra was restless, and so was I.  He was a brilliant college philosophy and theology professor; I was a successful high school science teacher and athletic coach.  Yet, we were both agitated, unsettled.  God was shaking us.  God was pleased with what we were doing, but God wanted us to shift to a different ministry.  When Father Serra was thirty-six, he asked his Franciscan superiors if he could become a missionary to Mexico, and when I was thirty-seven, I asked my Crosier superiors if I could shift from brotherhood to priesthood.

Missionary Par Excellence.  This past July, 2015, I was blessed with an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to southern California to visit the Franciscan missions, nine which were founded by Father Serra.  Over the course of four days, we went from San Diego to San Francisco visiting several missions each day.  We drove along the rocky coast, over rugged mountains, across deep ravines, through forests, and across several desert regions.  I was delighted to be riding in a van.  The engine strained.  Heat fluctuations were extreme, AC in the desert, heat at elevation.  Father Serra walked it all, and he covered thousands of miles by foot.   The difficulty of the route reminded me of my two pilgrimages to Greece.  St. Paul set the standard for walking miles and miles to proclaim the gospel.  St. Paul preached with courage and conviction to those who held other beliefs, and his message was so compelling that he made many converts and founded one Christian community after another.  Father Serra is an eighteenth-century version of St. Paul.  He was on fire for Christ, and nothing, not his short stature, injured leg, bouts with illness, the taxing journeys, or the sometimes disappointing results, could hold him down.  Father Serra was driven, a man on a mission to bring Jesus to as many people and places as possible.  Like St. Paul, Father Serra made many converts and founded one Christian community after another.

The Saints.  The artwork in the mission churches reveals that Father Serra had a great devotion to the saints, and so do I.  Father Serra held the Blessed Virgin Mary in high esteem, and she is often depicted as the Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and our Lady of Sorrows.  St. Joseph is often shown holding the child Jesus in his arms.  In addition, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of Father Serra’s religious order, is on display in almost every mission church, oftentimes holding a crucifix or with the stigmata in his hands.  Two other Franciscan saints also receive major attention, St. Anthony of Padua, my middle name and second patron saint, and St. Bonaventure.

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