St. John of Capistrano – A Reflection

Knights and Dames,

Under the leadership of Sir Bob Ferrar, our spirituality committee will be sending out monthly articles on spiritual topics related to the Order.

The first article, written by Sir John Pack, discusses St. John of Capistrano who is one of the Saints of the EOHSJ.

St. John of Capistrano

St John Capistrano OFM (1386-1456) Priest and Friar of the Friars Minor. He was a crusader priest and was one of the Equestrian Order’s Saints. Famous as a Preacher, Theologian, and trained Lawyer, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a Crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the Siege of Belgrade.

John was born in Capistrano, Italy, in 1385. He studied law at the University of Perugia. In 1412, King Ladislaus of Naples appointed him Governor of Perugia. When war broke out between Perugia and the Malatesta in 1416, John was sent as ambassador to broker peace, but Malatesta threw him in prison. It was during this imprisonment that he began to think more seriously about his soul. He decided eventually to give up the world and become a Franciscan Friar, owing to a dream he had in which he saw St. Francis and was advised to enter the Franciscan Order. Having never consummated his marriage, he asked and received permission from his wife to annul the marriage and started studying theology with St Bernardine of Siena.

Together with St James of the Marches, John entered the Order of Friars Minor at Perugia on 4 October 1416. At once he gave himself up to the most rigorous asceticism, violently defending the ideal of strict observance and orthodoxy, following the example set by Bernardine. From 1420 onwards, he preached with great effect in numerous cities and eventually became well known.

John’s reputation as a charismatic and powerful preacher grew. John traveled throughout Europe and Russia preaching to large crowds and helping to establish Franciscan communities.

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire, under Sultan Mehmed II, threatened Christian Europe. That following year Pope Callixtus III sent John, who was already seventy years old, to preach a Crusade against the invading Turks at the Imperial Diet of Frankfurt. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. John succeeded in gathering enough troops to march onto Belgrade, which at that time was under siege by Turkish forces. In the summer of 1456, these troops, together with John Hunyadi, managed to raise the siege of Belgrade. This feat earned him the title of ‘the Soldier Priest’. John died only three months later.

St. John of Capistrano has a unique presence in the New World as well. In 1776, Spanish Franciscan missionaries built a mission in southern California and named it San Juan Capistrano. The stone church they erected is the oldest building still in use in California. St. John of Capistrano is the patron saint of military chaplains and judges.

Anyone who would like to join the Spirituality Committee or would like to submit an article for consideration, please contact me by email.

In Christ,

David and Nancy Schanzlin

Area Co-Councillors