St John Capistran

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St John Capistran Confessor (1386-1456) Saint Of the day October 23



St John Capistran

Confessor (1386-1456)

Saint Of the day October 23


This saint’s life is an apt illustration of the inscrutable ways of Divine providence. Born on 24 June 1386 at Capestrano in the Abruzzi Mountains of central Italy, to a Baron named Anthony, he studied both Civil and Canon Law at Perugia with brilliant success, and at the age of 27 was appointed governor of Perugia, then part of the Papal States. He was successful in combating civic corruption, but in 1416 when the city was captured by the Malatesta, and John went to entreat for peace, he was cast into a dungeon.


His imprisonment caused him to consider seriously the state of his own soul, and when he was released upon payment of a huge sum, he had made up his mind to abandon the world entirely in obedience to St Francis who had appeared to him in a dream. At 31, having had his marriage to the daughter of the Count of San Valentino annulled as not having been consummated, John entered the Franciscan Order on 4 October 1415. St Bernardine of Siena, whose great eloquence had just become manifest, was his principal teacher and guide, and one of his fellow students was St James of the Marches, who, like himself a former law student, was to support him throughout the next 40 years in his missionary labours and in the reform of the strict Observant Order. For nine years John accompanied St Bernardine on his missionary journeys, and in 1425 was ordained priest. Then began his own preaching career which took him to many of the principal cities of Italy. So outstanding was his success that before long the largest churches could not contain his hearers and he would preach to some 20,000 to 30,000 in the open squares. Laity and clergy alike would go out to meet him in solemn procession, bringing all business to a standstill. At Brescia in northern Italy he once addressed an estimated 126,000 people gathered from far and near to hear him. He would preach in Latin, and an interpreter would render the vernacular for the benefit of the unlettered. Great miracles of healing accompanied his preaching and further spread his fame abroad, so that on ┘Źne occasion he was asked to make the sign of the Cross over some 2,000 sick, who had been brought to the mission.


Like his mentor St Bernardine of Siena, he propagated devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus everywhere. Not one to sit around, his strong Christian optimism drove him to battle problems at all levels with the confidence emanating from a deep faith in Christ. In 1426 he was appointed Papal inquisitor and vehemently combated the errors of the Fraticelli heretics whose doctrines were spreading confusion especially in southern Italy and Sicily. In 1443 he was elected Minister General of the Observants, and from 1439 onwards was repeatedly sent abroad a Papal legate by four successive popes  to Palestine, Poland, France (where he met and gave encouragement to St Colette who was reforming the Poor Clares) and to Austria and Bohemia, where he had marked success in winning Hussite heretics back to the faith.


After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 he emerged as the leading spirit in trying to rouse the Christian Princes to form a united front against the Turks and so save Hungary and all Europe. At the Pope’s command, he preached the crusade among the Hungarian people and with such amazing success that thousands flocked to the colours. The enemy was decisively defeated at Belgrade in spite of overwhelming odds. The famous Hunyadi Yanos was in charge of all relieving forces, while St John Capistran led the left wing. At the critical moment, when his men were about to yield, he leapt into the fray himself and, with the cross raised aloft, swept them to victory. Three months later, i.e. on 23 October 1456 he breathed his last and was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII on 16 October 1690.

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