Feast Day: October 23
This saint died in Austria on this date when the Church was in the midst of schism and was threatened by the Turks. He is well known by the people of the United States because of the California mission “San Juan Capistrano,” to which the swallows return each year.
John Capistrano was born in the fourteenth century. His education was thorough. His talents and success were great. When he was twenty-six he was made governor of Perugia. Imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas, John resolved to change his way of life completely. It was said that he had a vision in which St. Francis of Assisi invited him to enter the Franciscan Order. This he did and at the age of thirty he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later. He combined extreme austerity of life with unremitting effort in studying theology under Bernardino of Siena. He then became a successful preacher in Italy attracting great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion.
So successful was Father John in his preaching that after one of his sermons more than 100 young university students entered the Franciscan Order. He also won many converts from among the Jews in Eastern Europe. He spent long hours in the confessional and promoted works of charity by the Third Order Franciscans. He and twelve Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion. He also worked hard at the reform and reorganization of the Franciscan Observant friars and of the nuns.
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 led to John being commissioned by Pope Pius II to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General Janos Hunyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. But the neglect of unburied corpses around the city caused the deaths of many through disease. Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to the infection bred by the refuse of battle. He died October 23, 1456.
John Hofer, a biographer of John Capistrano, recalls a Brussels organization named after the saint. Seeking to solve problems in a fully Christian spirit, its motto was: “Initiative, Organization, Activity.” These three words characterized John’s life. He was not one to sit around, ever. His deep Christian optimism drove him to battle problems at all levels with the confidence engendered by a deep faith in Christ.