St. John Capistrano
St. John of Capistrano, patron saint of military chaplains and judges—pray for us!
Born: Jun 24, 1386
Died: Oct 23, 1456
Canonized: October 23, 1690
John was born in Capistrano, Italy, in 1386, and studied law. After practicing as a lawyer in the courts of Naples, he was appointed the governor of Perugia. During a war with a neighboring city, he was imprisoned. During his imprisonment, John began to study theology, and when he was released in 1416, he left his secular profession and entered a Franciscan community at Perugia.
John studied with St. James of the Marches and St. Bernardine of Siena, and, through their guidance and his theological training, grew into a brilliant preacher. 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.
During his old age, the Holy Roman Empire was facing the daunting military power of the Ottoman Empire. Both Rome and Vienna were under threat of siege. Thus, John was commissioned by Pope Callixtus III to incite in his enthralled audiences’ interest in a crusade to oppose the invasion. Extending his leadership beyond simply the pastoral sphere, John also served as a leader in the defense of Belgrade and marched at the head of 70,000 soldiers who won a decisive victory in Belgrade in 1456. John died only three months later. St. John of Capistrano, nicknamed the “soldier saint,” helped liberate Belgrade from a military siege at the age of seventy.
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. It is the only surviving structure that has documented proof that St. Junipero Serra celebrated Mass here. For a long time, that church was the largest building in Southern California. One unusual tradition surrounding the mission church is a celebration involving the American cliff swallow. The church was located next to two rivers, providing an abundance of insects for the birds. Each year, the swallows journey six thousand miles to Argentina for the winter and travel back in the spring. Their return is welcomed with a famous celebration, Fiesta de las Golondrinas, which takes place on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph.