St. John was born in Voltaggio, Italy, in 1698, one of four children. When he was young, a nobleman and his wife who spent their summers in Voltaggio took him back to Genoa to be trained in their home. He stayed for three years and during that time gained the good opinion of two visiting Capuchin friars, which led to an invitation from his cousin, a canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, to come to Rome to study at the Roman College.
He completed the classical course of studies, but began practicing severe mortifications after reading an ascetical book. Their severity, combined with a heavy course load and a bout of epilepsy, led to a breakdown, and he was forced to leave the college. He recuperated and completed his training at Minerva, but was never again very strong.
At age 23 he was ordained a priest. He had visited hospitals as a student, and now he focused his attention upon them. He concentrated especially on the hospice of Saint Galla, an overnight shelter for paupers that had been founded by Pope Celestine III.
St. John spent the next 40 years of his life ministering to the sick and the needy, especially homeless women for whom he founded a refuge. Assigned to Santa Maria Church near the Aventine, he acquired a reputation as a confessor that drew throngs of penitents to his confessional. Pope Benedict XIV also chose St. John to instruct prison and other state officials, including the public hangman. His preaching was in great demand, and he was often asked to give addresses in religious houses.
His frail health eventually compelled him to move to the Trinita dei Pellegrini in 1763, where he suffered a stroke and received the last sacraments. He recovered enough to resume celebrating Mass, but in 1764 he had another stroke and died at the age of 66. The hospital of the Trinita undertook to pay for the poor priest’s burial. His funeral was attended by 260 priests as well as the papal choir. He was canonized in 1881.
1. St. John’s only thought was for souls, so much so that he was called “Hunter of Souls.” In all our relationships, we too should always consider what good we may do for others’ souls. Let us pray for the love which casts out all fear so that everything we do will be for the salvation of others.
2. St. John’s life was one of complete poverty and trust in the Lord’s providence. Any money he was given was immediately distributed to the poor or spent on the needs of his parish. May we too learn to trust God to take care of all our temporal needs so that we can more generously share with others all the gifts He has given us.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Julia of Corsica (440), Virgin, Martyr, Patron of Corsica