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August 13

Saint John Berchmans

​Saint John Berchmans

Jesuit Seminarian

(1599-1621)

“Our true worth, does not consist, in what human beings think of us. What we really are, consists, in what God knows us to be.

Saint John Berchmans

Saint’s Life Story

His Early Life 

John Berchmans was born the eldest son of a shoemaker on March 13, 1599 at Diest, in what is now the Begian province of Brabant. John’s parents were John Charles and Elizabeth Berchmans. He was the oldest of five children. At baptism, he was named John in honor of the John the Baptist.  John studied at the Gymnasium (grammar school) at Diest. When he was 13, John worked as a servant in the household of Canon John Froymont at Mechelen in order to continue his studies. At a very young age John wanted to be a priest. John also made pilgrimages to the Marian shrine of Scherpenheuvel, near Diest.

Entered Jesuit College at Mechelen

In 1615, John entered the newly opened Jesuit college at Mechelen. When John wrote his parents that he wished to join the Society of Jesus, his father hurried to Mechelen to dissuade him and sent him to the Franciscan convent in Mechelen. At the convent, a friar who was related to John also attempted to change his mind. Finally, as a last resort, John’s father told him that he would end all financial support if he continued with his plan. After his mother’s death, his father and two brothers followed suit and entered religious life.

Jesuit Novitiate

Nevertheless, on September 24, 1616, John entered the Jesuit novitiate. He was affable, kind, and endowed with an outgoing personality that endeared him to others. John requested that after ordination as a priest that he could become a chaplain in the army.  He hoped to be martyred on the battlefield.  On January 24, 1618, John made his first vows. He went to Antwerp, Beligium to begin studying philosophy. After only a few weeks he was sent to Rome, Italy, where he was to continue the same study. John was so poor and humble that he set out on foot, with his belongings on his back, and walked from Antwerp to Rome. On his arrival in Rome, John was admitted to the Roman College to begin two years of study. That year, his father was ordained and died six months later. 

John took as his spiritual model his fellow Jesuit Aloysius Gonzaga and he was also influenced by the example of the English Jesuit martyrs. It was his realistic appreciation for the value of ordinary things, a characteristic of the Flemish mystical tradition, that constituted his holiness. He had a special devotion to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to him is owed the Little Rosary of the Immaculate Conception. John was known for his diligence and piety, and his stress on perfection even in small things.

His Death

John entered his third-year class in philosophy in the year 1621. After completing his course work, he was asked to defend the “entire field of philosophy” in a public disputation in July, just after his exit examinations. The following month he was asked to represent the Roman College in a debate with the Greek College. Although John distinguished himself in this disputation, he had studied so assiduously that he caught a cold in mid-summer, became very ill with with an undetermined illness accompanied by a fever, although some think it now to have been dysentery. As he was dying, he pressed to his heart his Crucifix, his Rosary and the Book of Rules, saying:  “These are my three treasures, with these I shall gladly die.” 

John died on August 13, 1621 at the age of 22 years and 5 months.

Miracles

So many miracles were attributed to him after his death at the age of 22, that his cultus soon spread to his native Belgium, where 24,000 copies of his portrait were published within a few years of his death.

Saint John is represented as a young Jesuit kneeling in a ray of light, and pointing to a skull, with a log of wood, crucifix, book and rosary near him. He is the patron of altar boys (Roeder). The convent of Via di Tor dei Specchi (founded by Saint Frances of Rome) has two pictures of the saint, although his death mask has been lost. One was painted directly from the corpse; the other is a sweetened copy of the death portrait. The original has never been published.

Born:                  March 13, 1599 in Diest, Brabant, Belgium

Died:                   August 13, 1621 age 22 in Rome, Italy

Beatified:           May 28, 1865 by Pope Pius IX

Canonized:        January 15, 1888 by Pope Leo XIII

Feast Day:         August 13 (Sometimes shown as November 26)

Patron Saint:    Altar Boys, Girls, and Servers; Jesuit Scholastics; Oblate Novices; Students; Young People  

Sources:

Reflection

John Berchmans was not noted for extraordinary feats of holiness or austerity, nor did he found orders or churches or work flashy miracles. He made kindness, courtesy, and constant fidelity an important part of his holiness. He did not even live long enough to make his vows and get ordained. But he died while clutching his rosary, crucifix, and rules of his order.

What ordinary act of kindness can you do today that will keep you on the path of holiness? Remember that the path to holiness can lie in the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.

Prayers

Saint John Berchmans,

You embraced a life of holiness and service from a young age. As an altar server and student, you sought to excel in your studies and serve at the altar with reverence. You teach us the value of humility and dedication in our daily lives.

Please intercede for us before the throne of God, that we may follow your example of virtue and piety.

Help us to deepen our love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament by meditating about the crucifix, and to honor the Blessed Mother as you did through praying the Rosary.

Guide us in our pursuits, that we may use our talents to glorify God and serve others May we grow in faith, hope, and love and be steadfast in our devotion to God.

Protect and bless all altar servers around the world. Teach us to help them understand what a great honor it is to assist the priest in Mass. Inspire altar boys to become priests and altar girls to enter the religious life.

Saint John Berchmans, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

All Saints and Martyrs – Prayers to St. John Berchmans

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 13 August – Saint John Berchmans SJ (1599-1621)

Cathedral of St John Berchmans – Our Patron: St. John Berchmans

Catholic Fire – Saint John Berchmans

Catholic Online – Saint John Berchmans

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint John Berchmans

New Advent – St. John Berchmans

Saint of the Day – St. John Berchmans

Video Link

St. John Berchmans – YouTube (ChurchMilitant Archives)