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January 16

St Joseph Vaz - January 16

Saint Joseph Vaz

Apostle of Sri Lanka

(1651 – 1711)

“Hardly will you be able to do at the time of death what you have not done during your life.”

Saint Joseph Vaz

His Early Life and Education

Joseph was born on April 21, 1651 in Benaulim, Salcette, Goa, India to Christopher (Cristóvão) Vaz and Maria de Miranda, the third of six children. He attended primary and secondary school in Sancoale, where he learned Portugese, and Benaulim, where he learned Latin. Joseph studied humanities at the Jesuit Goa University, philosophy and theology at Saint Thomas Aquinas Academy.

Ordained A Priest

In 1675, Joseph was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Goa by Custódio de Pinho, the Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur and Golconda. In 1676, he was ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Goa, António Brandão. Soon after his ordination, Joseph started going barefoot to live like the poor and acquired a reputation as a popular preacher and confessor. Joseph opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians. In 1677, he consecrated himself as a “slave of Mary”, sealing it with a document known as the “Letter of Enslavement”.

Desire To Be A Missionary

About this time, Joseph learned of the condition of Catholics in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) who were persecuted by the Dutch and had had no priests for 50 years. He sought permission to work in Ceylon, but was asked to go to the mission in Kanara, India.  Even though his thoughts and heart were in Ceylon, he accepted the work in Ceylon. Jospeh was appomited Vicar Forane in Kanara. Here, Joseph was preaching, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, helping the poor, ransoming Christian slaves, working to settle jurisictional disputes that interfered with the sacraments.

Set off for Ceylon in Disguise

Joseph joined a small congregation of priests who had formed in Goa in the Church of the Holy Cross of Miraclesand was elected superior. He gave a definitive canonical status to this Oratory, introduced religious exercises and charitable activities, and trained its members for the mission. During his stay, Joseph undertook serious missionary activities in Canara from 1681 to 1684, carrying out a lot of missionary work in Mangalore, Coondapur, Basroor, Barcoor, Moolki, Kallianpur and other areas. His missionary work revived the spirits and faith of the widely scattered Roman Catholic community.

In 1686, Joseph gave up his position, and set out for Ceylon. Disguised as an itinerant worker, he reached the port of Tuticorin on Easter 1687. He carried no baggage and the sacred vessels for Mass and an altar stone were concealed on him. Compelled to take shelter in Mannar, Joseph was put on shore in a state of exhaustion, famished, thirsty and penniless. He remained in the town of Mannar for some days begging from door to door and as soon as they regained sufficient strength sailed for Jaffna on the strength of the passports issued to them at Tuticorin.

Ministered at Night

After landing at Jaffna, Joseph found a strong Calvinist presence. As Catholic priests were banned by the Dutch authorities, Joseph had to travel under the guise of a mendicant and to work in secret. Contracted from the terrible travelling conditions, Joseph suffered from acute dysentery. Upon recovery, he began his mission by contacting Catholics and hiding from the Dutch. Joseph was taken in by a courageous Catholic. He ministered to his secret flock by night.

A trusty bodyguard from Sillalai went to Jaffna, transporting Vaz under cover of darkness to their village. One step ahead of the authorities, in 1689, Joseph went to the Catholic village of Sillalai, known later as “Little Rome” and began ministering to folks in surrounding villages.

Accused of Being A Portuguese Spy in Kandy

In 1690, Joseph moved on to Puttalam in the Kingdom of Kandy, where 1,000 Catholics had not seen a priest for half a century. He decided to make Kandy the centre of his apostolate.

In 1692, Joseph left for Kandy, hoping to obtain royal permission to travel freely. Instead, he was accused by a Calvinist of being a Portugese spy. Joseph and was imprisoned with two other Catholics. There, he learned Sinhala, the local language. Since the prison guards left the prisoners alone as long as they didn’t try to escape, Joseph built a hut-church.  Later, he built a proper church dedicated to Our Lady and began converting other prisoners.

Prayers for Rain Answered

In 1696, the Kingdom of Kandy was suffering a serious drought. So, the king asked the Buddhist monks to pray to their gods for rain. But, there was no ran. He then turned to Joseph who erected an altar and cross in the middle of the square and prayed. Then, abundant rain began to fall, while Joseph and his altar stayed dry. As a result of this, the king granted Joseph license to preach throughout the kingdom.

Making the most of his new-found freedom, Joseph made a mission visit to the Dutch zone and visited Catholics in Colombo. In 1697, three missionaries from Goa arrived to help him. They also let him know that the news that Don Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin, had appointed him Vicar General in Ceylon. Jsoeph was organizing the basic mission structure when smallpox broke out in Kandy. His work with the sick convinced the king to allow Joseph every possible freedom in his labors.

Built New Church

Joseph carried his mission to the main centers of the island. In 1699, he returned to Kandy with Father Joseph de Carvalho, who had been expelled at the instigation of Buddhist monks. Joseph completed the construction of his new church. He also went into service for the king, translating Portuguese books into Sinhala. From this vantage point, Joseph intensified his ministry. He converted some Sinhalese notables, which gave rise to slanders against him and persecution of converts.

Organized Mission

In 1705, new missionaries arrived in 1705, This enabled Joseph to organize the mission into eight districts, each led by a priest. He worked on the creation of a Catholic literature to affirm the rights of Catholics with the Dutch Protestant Government.

His Death

King Vimaldharna Surya II, Joseph’s mentor, died in 1707. However, his successor, Narendrasimha, was an even greater supporter. New missionaries arrived in 1708 and in 1710.

Despite health problems, Joseph took another apostolic trip. On his return, he fell ill from his carriage. When Joseph reached Kandy, he was in serious condition. Though he recovered from a series of infections and fevers over the next year, the combination of his age, work, and disease had finally worn him out. Joseph undertook nine days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Rule. Before the seventh day, at the age of 51, Joseph died on January 16, 1711, in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Born :                   April 21, 1651 in Benaulim, Salcette, Goa, India

Died:                    January 16, 1711 age 51 in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Beatified:            January 21, 1995 by Pope Pope John Paul II

Canonized:         January 14, 2015 by Pope Francis

Feast Day:          January 16

Patron Saint:    Archdiocese of Goa and Damão, India; Sri Lanka



Saint Joseph Vaz was known for his unwavering dedication to missionary work, particularly in regions where Christianity was a minority religion. He ventured into territories where Christianity was not well-established and worked tirelessly to spread the message of the Gospel. His life was filled with challenges, including persecution and the need to practice his faith in secret. Despite these difficulties, he showed immense perseverance and courage in continuing his mission. His determination to carry on, despite adversity, is a source of inspiration. If you live in the United States, you are blessed with the freedom to worship at your Catholic Church or your home without fear of persecution. Thank God today for that blessing.

What challenges do you have to deal with today? How can you address these challenges with courage and perseverance that inspire others?


Saint Joseph Vaz,
Model of faith and devotion,
you who dedicated your life
to spreading the message of Christ,
to bringing His love and light
to those in darkness and ignorance,
we humbly seek your intercession.

Pray for us, O holy servant of God,
that we may have the strength
to persevere in our faith
and to share the Good News
with all those we encounter.

Help us to be instruments of God’s peace, to show compassion to the marginalized, and to foster understanding and harmony among people of different faiths.

May your example of dedication
inspire us to live our faith
with courage and love.

Saint Joseph Vaz, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Aleteia – Pope Francis Canonizes “Apostle to Sri Lanka”: Oratorian Priest Joseph Vaz

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint’s and Blessed’s of India

Birmingham Oratory – Saint Joseph Vaz

Catholic Fire – Who is Sri Lanka’s first Saint?

Catholic News Agency – Pope Francis’ full homily on Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s first saint

India Catholic Matters – Saint Joseph Vaz: An Indian Sanyasi in a Foreign Land

Mission Priest – St. Joseph Vaz: Apostle of Sri Lanka

National Catholic Register – St. Thomas Aquinas and Bishop Robert Barron by Father John P. Cush

New Advent –  Hull, E. (1912). Blessed Joseph Vaz. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

TV Antony Rei – Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 11 – The Miracle of the Rain in Kandy

Video Link

Marian Month: St. Jose Vaz (The Slave of the Rosary)  – YouTube (The Morning Star)

St Joseph Vaz – Saint of the Day with Fr Lindsay – YouTube (St Francis Xavier – SPRING of FAITH)