Friday, October 22, 2010

St John of Capistrano

St. Francis Rosary
Handcrafted by Marianne Churchill

St. John of Capistrano (1385-1456) is the patron saint of jurists and military chaplains. He was born in the Abruzzo region of Italy and trained as a lawyer. In 1412 he was appointed governor of an especially lawless papal fief called Perugia. When war broke out between Perugia and the Malatesta in 1416 the newly married 26 year old was sent to broker peace. Instead he was thrown into prison, where he had a dream in which St. Francis appeared to him and urged him to join the priesthood. John vowed to change his life, and so, because the marriage was never consummated, obtained dispensation to enter religious life. He became a Franciscan priest in 1425, but had preached as a deacon for several years before that.

Father John was incredibly well received all throughout Italy. People came from miles around, by the thousands, to the local town square to hear him preach. He also enjoyed a reputation as a healer of the sick. No church was large enough to accommodate the crowds. His message of a return to simplicity, faith and devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus resonated during a time when France was at war with England, the bubonic plague had dessimated one-third of the population, and there were 2 or 3 men all claiming to be Pope. It was a period of great religious apathy and confusion. John and twelve other Observant Franciscans with whom he traveled played an important role in the revival of the dying faith.

The Franciscan order was undergoing reform at the same time. Father John favored and worked tirelessly for a stricter interpretation and practice of the Rule of St. Francis, which some considered heresy. In 1429 Father John and several others were called to Rome to answer for the charges. With Father John representing the group, all were aquitted. They continued preaching throughout Europe, free to engage in stricter observance than was customary at the time.

In 1453 he was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. The Turks has just conquered Constantinople, and were threatening to take Rome and Vienna. Father John recruited in Hungary, and in the summer of 1456, at the age of 70, led an army to Belgrade, where they were victorious. The siege of Belgrade was lifted. Father John contracted bubonic plague on the battlefield and died on October 23, 1456. He was entombed in Villach, a town in Austria, where the inscription reads:

This tomb holds John, by birth of Capistrano, a man worthy of all praise,defender and promoter of the faith, guardian of the Church, zealous protector of his Order, an ornament to all the world, lover of truth and religious justice, mirror of life, surest guide in doctrine; praised by countless tongues, he reigns blessed in heaven.

The date of St. John of Capistrano's cannonization is uncertain but thought to be either 1690 or 1724. Originally his feast day was March 28, a date still observed by Traditionalist Catholics. In 1969 Pope Paul VI moved the feast day to October 23.

St. John of Capistrano is the namesake of two early American Spanish missions, one in modern day Southern California (founded in 1776 ) and the other outside San Antonio, Texas (founded in 1731).

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