October 22, 2017

St. John of Capistrano, Franciscan Reformer and Defender of the Faith

Saint John of Capistrano

Optional Memorial - October 23rd

The times were anything but good. It was the 14th century, and Europe was in the grip of incredible turmoil. The bubonic plague was raging, leaving a third of the population dead. In Rome, the Great Schism was rocking the papacy, with two, and sometimes three men claiming the Chair of Peter at the same time. England and France were at war, and the city-states of Italy in constant conflict.

Into this gloomy picture stepped St. John Capistrano. Born in 1386, his extensive education in the law led to his appointment as governor of Perugia in 1412. In 1416, he was sent to broker a peace between that city and the city of Malatesta, a move that resulted in his imprisonment there. During his captivity, he decided to change his life completely. After his release, he entered the Franciscan Order.

John would became a disciple of Saint Bernardine of Siena. A great preacher, he reinvigorated the faith of innumerable Catholics, and aided St. Bernardine in his work reforming the Franciscans. Starting his mimistry as a deacon in 1420, he was a tireless servant. The Church at the time was in need of strong men to work for the salvation of souls. Thirty percent of the population was killed by the Black Plague, the Church was in schism and several men were claiming to be pontiff.

As an Itinerant priest throughout Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, St. John preached to tens of thousands and established communities of Franciscan renewal. He reportedly healed the sick by making the Sign of the Cross over them. He also wrote extensively, mainly against the heresies of the day. John, together with his teacher, Bernardine, his colleague, James of the Marche, and Albert Berdini of Sarteano, are considered to be the four great pillars of the Observant reform honored among the Friars Minor.

In 1456, at the age of 70, he was commissioned by Pope Callistus III to preach and lead a crusade against the invading Muslim forces. He led a successful battle in Belgrade, defending the Christians there from the invading Turks. Worn out by his unceasing efforts on behalf of the Church, he fell prey to an infection, from which he died later that same year. O God, who raised up St. John of Capistrano to comfort your faithful people in tribulation, place us, we pray, under your safe protection and keep your Church in everlasting peace. Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may conform our will to yours and serve you in sincerity of heart.

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