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Saints for Today: Joseph of Cupertino, Priest and Mystic (1603-1663)

Feast Day: September 18th

Joseph of Cupertino was born Joseph Desa in Cupertino, Italy, the town that later gave him his surname. His father, a poor carpenter, died before his birth. Creditors drove his mother out of her home, and she was forced to give birth to Joseph in a stable. As Joseph was growing up, his mother considered him a nuisance and treated him harshly. Joseph soon became very slow and absent-minded. He would wander around, going nowhere, his mouth gaping open. But he had a bad temper, too, and so, he was not at all popular. He was a poor student, and was nicknamed “Bocca Apertuar” (“the Gaper”) because of his incessant staring and going about with his mouth open—characteristics of his trance states. At age eight he had his first ecstatic vision.

In his teenage years, Joseph joined the Capuchins, but eight months later, they sent him away because he could not seem to do anything right. He dropped piles of dishes and kept forgetting to do what he was told. His mother was not at all pleased to have the eighteen-year-old Joseph back home again, so she finally got him accepted as a servant at the Franciscan monastery. He was given the monks habit and put to hard work taking care of the horses. About this time, Joseph began to change. He grew more humble and gentle, more careful and successful at his work. He also began to do more penance. Now, it was decided that he could become a real member of the Order and start studying for the priesthood. Although very backward in his studies, his extreme good luck in examinations enabled him to be ordained priest at age twenty-five by the Franciscans at La Grotella near Cupertino. There his life was comprised of visions and mystical experiences and he became especially famous for his spectacular levitations and aerial flights. He would rise several feet into the air, sometimes enraptured by the sound of heavenly music that only he could hear. A peculiar aspect was that, when a trance overtook him at Mass, he always resumed where he had left off. Another unusual aspect is that his garments were never disturbed during his many flights whether he travelled forward or backward, up or down. In 1644 he amazed the Spanish ambassador to the Papal Court, his wife and attendants, by flying over their heads to a statue of Mary in the church. The ambassador’s wife fainted and had to be revived with smelling salts.

Known for his many levitations and other mystical gifts, another gift he possessed was that of knowing the consciences and sins of those with whom he came in contact. He would often approach people to remind them to confess hidden sins. When they replied that they were not conscious of any hidden sins, the Saint would reveal the time, place and circumstances of the offenses against God.

Joseph’s ecstasies and aerial flights—and the crowds who came to witness them—were so disruptive that for more than 35 years he was not allowed to celebrate Mass, take part in any processions or choir exercise, or even eat meals with the other friars. He was ordered to remain in his room, where a private chapel was built for him. For the last 10 years of his life, he was shuttled from one remote Capuchin or Franciscan monastery to another, a virtual prisoner. Whenever people discovered him, crowds would gather to see him. Throughout this banishment, Joseph remained in remarkably good humor. He maintained his rigorous fasting and mortifications. Joseph died at the age of sixty after being stricken with a fever. As he lie dying, he asked God to burn and rive (tear) his heart. The embalmers were shocked to find his heart withered and dry, and the ventricles without blood.

J. J. von Goerres, an expert on Catholic mysticism, reported that Daumer, a one-time enemy of Christianity, accepted these miraculous facts as being well established by reason of the “mistrust and suspicion to which St. Joseph was subject during life… and the severity with which the ecclesiastical enquiry concerning him was conducted.” It had also been observed that the spectators to these levitations were men of rank, credibility and intelligence, as were those who testified to the marvels for the Process of beatification. Joseph of Cupertino was canonized a saint in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII.

Side Note: What is a patron saint?

Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes — anything that is important to us. The earliest records show that people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs as early as the fourth century.

Recently, the popes have named patron saints but patrons can be chosen by other individuals or groups as well. Patron saints are often chosen today because an interest, talent, or event in their lives overlaps with the special area. Angels can also be named as patron saints. A patron saint can help us when we follow the example of that saint’s life and when we ask for that saint’s intercessory prayers to God (See, Tobit 13:12–15, Revelation 5:8, or Revelation 8:3–4, which depict heavenly beings offering the prayers of mortals before God).

Saint Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of astronauts, aviators, and students.


Catholic Online. Bakersfield, CA. Web. 10 September 2013.
Cruz, Joan Carroll. “Mysteries Marvels Miracles in the Lives of the Saints.” Charlotte: TAN Books, 1997.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.

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