St. John of Capistrano

Author: Enzo Lodi

ST. JOHN of CAPISTRANO—1386-1456

Feast: October 23

Historico-Liturgical Note

This saint died in Austria on this date in 1456, when the Church was in the midst of schism and was threatened by the Turks. He was canonized in 1630 and inscribed on the Roman Calendar in 1890. He is well known by the people of the United States because of the California mission "San Juan Capistrano," to which the swallows return each year.

Born at Capistrano, near Aquila, perhaps of a Nordic family that had emigrated to Italy, he studied law at Perugia and eventually became governor there in 1412. He was taken prisoner when Malatesta di Rimini conquered Perugia and is said to have had a vision in which St. Francis of Assisi invited him to enter the Franciscan Order. This he did, and he made his religious profession in 1418. His master was Bernardine of Siena and after his ordination in 1425 he dedicated himself to preaching and being a promoter of the Franciscan reform. Pope Martin V appointed him to resolve the conflict between the Franciscans and the "Fraticelli" (1426). Later, John was sent to the East as visitator of the Franciscans, and after the Council of Florence he was named apostolic nuncio to Sicily and then papal legate to France. He had been a missionary in Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary, where he preached the Crusade against the Turks.

After the conquest of Constantinople, the Turks attacked the fortress at Belgrade. The victory of the Christians was due in large part to the zeal and prayers of St. John, and the feast of the Transfiguration was instituted to commemorate the event. John died at the age of 70, leaving behind 19 volumes of his writings and more than 700 letters.

Message And Relevance

The new Opening Prayer for the Mass says that God "raised up St. John of Capistrano to give your people comfort in their trials. " In fact, the victory over the Turks was attributed to St. John, who held high the standard with the monogram of the name of Jesus (drawn by St. Bernardine of Siena) and urged the 4,000 crusaders to invoke the name of Jesus. The city was saved and the enemy withdrew, as St. John had seen would happen in a previous vision.

So successful was St. John in his preaching that after one of his sermons more than 100 young university students entered the Franciscan Order. He also won many converts from among the Jews in eastern Europe. He spent long hours in the confessional and promoted works of charity by the Third Order Franciscans.

Another characteristic of the saint is found in the Opening Prayer: "May your Church enjoy unending peace and be secure in your protection. " St. John was often named legate of the pope and he also defended his former teacher, Bernardine of Siena, who was criticized for preaching devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He was instrumental in bringing the Armenians to the Council of Florence. Finally, within his own Franciscan Order he tried, without success, to avoid the separation of the "Observants" from the "Conventuals." As a result of these many activities, John was called the "Apostle of Europe."

The Office of Readings offers an excerpt from St. John's treatise, Mirror of the Clergy, which was addressed to those who exercise the ministry of preaching. It is still applicable to priests of our time: "Presbyters who are born leaders deserve to be doubly honored, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.... They have been placed here to care for others. Their own lives should be an example to others, showing how they must live in the house of the Lord." As a reformer of the Franciscan Order and a travelling preacher, St. John of Capistrano teaches us to be prompt and zealous in promoting and upholding spiritual values.

Opening Prayer: Lord, you raised up St. John of Capistrano to give your people comfort in their trials. May your Church enjoy unending peace and be secure in your protection.

(Taken from "Saints of the Roman Calendar" by Enzo Lodi. Published by Alba House, Society of St. Paul, 2187 Victory Blvd., Staten Island, NY 10314.)