Feast Day: December 23
Patron saint of Poland and Lithuania, John was born near Kanty in Poland, south of modern-day Auschwitz. He was ordained a priest after studies at the University of Cracow and then became a professor of theology. John was appointed a lecturer on Scriptures and was a popular preacher and parish priest for a few years before returning to his university position. Among his students were the children of the king. He transcribed more than 18,000 pages of theological treatises. At a time when John Hus (Czech priest, key predecessor to the Protestant movement) was exerting great influence, St. John Kanty distinguished himself by his fidelity to orthodox doctrine and his kindness in his dealings with his adversaries that were jealous about his abilities.
Famous for his austerities and care for the poor, John would always set aside a portion of his income, and sometimes part of his food, for the poor, whom he welcomed as he would Christ. He was a serious man and humble. He kept only the money and clothes absolutely needed to support himself. He slept little and on the floor versus in a bed, he ate sparingly and took no meat. He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by the Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When he was warned to look after his health, he was quick to point out that, for all their austerity, the fathers (monks) of the desert lived remarkably long lives.
In the letter of Pope Clement XII in the “Divine Office-Office of Readings” we read: “Saint John Kanty deserves a high place among the great saints and scholars who practice what they preach and defend the true faith against those who attack it. When the Hussite heresy and schism were gaining ground in neighboring territories, his teaching at the University of Cracow was untainted by any error. At the pulpit he fought to raise the standard of holiness among the faithful, and his preaching was reinforced by his humility, his chastity, his compassion, his bodily penance and the other qualities of a dedicated priest and apostle… With his humility went a rare and childlike simplicity: the thoughts of his heart were revealed in his words and actions…The God in his heart and the God on his lips were one and the same God.”
John of Kanty was canonized in 1767 and is buried in the Church of St. Ann in Cracow, Poland. From the moment of his death he enjoyed the reputation of a saint and a miracle worker. The significance of this saint for us is his dedication to the study of sacred doctrine and his charity towards the poor and needy. At a time when there were numerous saints in Poland, St. John Kanty stands in the front line.
SIDENOTE: John of Kanty is a typical saint: He was kind, humble and generous; he suffered opposition and led an austere, penitential life. Most Christians in an affluent society can understand all the ingredients except the last: Anything more than mild self-discipline seems reserved for athletes and ballet dancers. Christmas, at least, is a good time to reject self-indulgence.
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.