St. John of Capistrano: “The Soldier Saint”
By Jean M. Heimann
The saint of the day for October 23 is St. John of Capistrano (1385-1456), an Italian Franciscan priest, preacher, and theologian who promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade. He is the patron saint of chaplains, military chaplains, and judges.
John was born at Capistrano, Italy in 1385, the son of a former German knight of that city. He studied law at the University of Perugia and practiced as a lawyer in the courts of Naples. King Ladislas of Naples appointed him governor of Perugia.
During a war with a neighboring town he was betrayed and imprisoned, where he experienced a deep conversion. Upon his release, he entered the Franciscan community at Perugia. There, he began his brilliant preaching ministry, while still a deacon in 1420. Following his ordination, he traveled to many European countries and Russia, preaching penance and founding numerous Franciscan communities.
St. John of Capistrano was the student of St. Bernadine of Siena, who inspired him to promote devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. While preaching in Italy, they carried a monogram of the Holy Name surrounded by rays. In its origin, the monogram IHS is an abbreviation of the name Jesus in Greek (A later tradition reveals that IHS denotes the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator, meaning “Jesus Savior of Mankind.”) St. Bernardine and St. John blessed the faithful with this monogram, calling upon the name of Jesus and many miracles were recounted. They also advised people to place the monogram over the city gates and the doorways of their homes.
In 1427, Pope Martin V approved veneration to the Holy Name and requested that the cross be included in the monogram IHS. When the malicious Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Pope Callistus II appointed Saint John (at age 70) to preach a crusade for the protection of Europe. Barefoot and dressed in his humble Franciscan habit, Saint John visited the kings of Europe, uniting them and their armies against the invading forces. In 1456, he led an army of 70,000 Christian soldiers to Belgrade, and when it appeared that they were overpowered by the Muslim army, he ran to the front lines. Holding his crucifix up high, this thin, slight old man kept calling out, “Victory, Jesus, victory!” Emboldened by Christ, the Christian army won an overwhelming victory, freeing the city from siege.
Three months later, St. John died at Villach in Austria. On his tomb there, the following message is inscribed: “This tomb holds John, by birth of Capistrano, a man worthy of all praise, defender and promoter of the faith, guardian of the Church, zealous protector of his Order, an ornament to all the world, lover of truth and religious justice, mirror of life, surest guide in doctrine; praised by countless tongues, he reigns blessed in heaven.”
you raised up Saint John of Capistrano
to give your people comfort in their trials.
May your Church enjoy unending peace
and be secure in your protection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.