FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

9. Franciscan Saints and Mystics (4)

D) Franciscan Reformers and Preachers

9.21 St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444)

Bernardino degli Albizzeschi was born in Massa Marittima, in Tuscany, in 1380. His family was well-known and wealthy in the town of Siena. When still very young Bernardine lost his parents, and had to move to Siena, to be taken care of by relatives. He studied law between 1396-1399. During the same period he also studied Scripture and theology. Bernardine was a very generous young man, taking care of the sick in the hospital of the Madonna della Scala, which was under the care of a confraternity. He was particularly full of mercy towards the plague victims of 1400. In 1402 Bernardine joined the Franciscan Order in the friary of Colombaio, on the outskirts of Siena. This was a friary belonging to the Observant branch of the Order of Friars Minor. Since the humble beginnings of the Italian Observance by Paoluccio Vagnozzi da Trinci in 1368, the Observant family was steadily growing in numbers and Bernardine would become one of its great pillars of reform. In 1404 he was ordained priest. Bernardine founded a new friary in a place close to Siena, called La Capriola. His first years as a priest were dedicated to intense study of Scripture. This was to be of immense help to Bernardine on his preaching missions in Italian towns. In fact, from 1417 onwards Bernardine was always on the move, preaching in many Italian towns. In his preaching he propagated the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and the monogram JHS ("Jesus Hominum Salvator") could be considered an invention of St. Bernardine. It can be found on many prominent sites in Italy, indicating places where Bernardine preached. Such is the case of the famous "piazza del campo" of Siena, where the annual "pallio" horse races are held. Bernardine is author of many sermons, which have been critically edited by the Quaracchi scholars in 7 volumes. He delivered his sermons in the language of the people. Bernardine was also a great reformer of the Franciscan Order. He was General Commissary of the Observant reform in Italy, and worked together with other great reformers, such as John Capistrano. One of his disciples was Blessed Matteo d'Agrigento, who propagated the Observant reform in Sicily. In 1444 Bernardine was preaching in the kingdom of Naples and then proceeded to L'Aquila. But his health was deteriorating fast. He died in the city of L'Aquila on 20 May 1444, where he was buried. Pope Nicholas V declared Bernardine a saint in 1450.

9.22 St. James of the Marches (1394-1476)

James was born at Monteprandone, near Ascoli Piceno, in September 1394. His baptismal name was Dominic. He lost his parents when still a young boy, and had to work as a shepherd boy. Later on he succeeded in studying in the Franciscan and Dominican friaries of Ascoli, and he also studied law in Perugia. After coming into contact with the Friars Minor at Bibbiena and the Porziuncola, he entered the Franciscan Order in 1415. He continued his humanistic and theological studies in the friary of Monte alle Croci, outside Florence, where he was ordained priest in 1422. Between 1431 and 1458 James became a great preacher in many towns of Italy. He also took an active part in the reform of the Franciscan Order, within the family of the Observance. The Popes often sent James on delicate missions as their personal ambassador in Hungary, Bosnia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Poland. He was present during St. Bernardine's canonisation ceremony in Rome in 1450. The last years of his life were also spent in the ministry of preaching in Italian towns. One of the initiatives of James was the founding of "Monti di Pieta'", which were a kind of mediaeval bank, in which the poor could acquire loans with very low interests. This was one of the great social reforms which the Observant Franciscans were doing in Italy, with the aim of eradicating usury. James died when preaching in Naples on 28 November 1476. Benedict XIII declared him a saint in 1726.

9.23 St. John Capistrano (1386-1456)

John was born in the town of Capistrano, near L'Aquila, on 24 June 1386. His father was a baron. The family was deeply involved in local politics and rival hatred between warring factions, and John's childhood years were marked by the sad history of assassinations of many of the members of his family. John later left for Perugia, where he studied law and became a magistrate. But when Perugia was attacked by the army of Malatesta, John was imprisoned. During this time, in 1415, he matured the idea of consecrating his life to God as a Franciscan friar. When he was 30 years old he entered the Franciscan Observant friary of Monteripido, near Perugia. During this period the Church had just gone out of one of the most troubled moments of its history. In 1417 the Council of Constance put an end to the Great Schism of the west, and Martin V was elected Pope. John became a disciple of Bernardine of Siena, one of the great reformers of the Franciscan Order. In 1430 he presented the Martinian Constitutions, which were an attempt at the genuine reform of the Order. Pope Eugene IV was highly in favour of the Observant reform and helped both Bernardine of Siena and John of Capistrano in their reform programmes. In 1441 Capistrano was elected Vicar General of the Observants in Italy, after returning from the Holy Land, which the Pope had given to the custody of the Observants in 1439. In 1446 Pope Eugene IV gave full autonomy to the Observants with the Bull "Ut Sacra Ordinis Minorum". In the meantime John Capistrano was also working hard at reforming the Second Franciscan Order, in the observance of the Rule of St. Clare of Assisi. The Popes also chose John Capistrano as their personal ambassador and nuncio in various countries, with the aim of preaching against heretical tendencies in Europe. John Capistrano is considered one of the great apostles of Europe. He travelled widely, to Germany, Poland, Transylvania, Moldavia, Russia. When the sultan Muhammad II entered Constantinople in 1453, Europe was in dire peril. The Pope wanted to halt the advance of the Turks, who had penetrated into Europe and were going to attack Belgrade. Thus, in 1456, John Capistrano led a crusade against the Turks. But during the battle John's health failed. He died in the friary of Ilok, in what is today Croatia, on 23 October 1456. He was canonised by Alexander VIII in 1690. Pope John Paul II declared John Capistrano as patron saint of military chaplains.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm



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