Blessed John of Parma

Blessed John of Parma

(beato Giovanni da Parma)

Confessor, First Order

Blessed John of Parma was the seventh general of the Franciscan Order, and labored zealously during his administration to reanimate the spirit of the Order. He was a descendant of the ancient noble family of the Buralli, and was born at Parma in the year 1209. He was in high repute for learning and piety, and was professor of philosophy in his native city, when the love of God urged him to forsake the world and devote himself wholly to God in the Order of Friars Minor. At the time he was twenty-five years of age. Already during his year of probation he was imbued with the spirit of our holy Father St Francis; he loved poverty above all things, not only so far as the renunciation of external goods is concerned, but also in the sacrifice of his will and the esteem tendered him, so that he was a model of humility, abnegation, and self-sacrifice.

After his profession he was sent to Paris to complete his course in theology. After he was ordained to the priesthood, his superiors employed him in the apostolic ministry. Then he was appointed professor of theology, and acquitted himself of this task with remarkable success at Bologna, Naples, and Rome.

Pope Innocent IV convoked a general council in the city of Lyons in the year 1245. As the minister general, Cresentius, was unable to attend the council because of age and infirmity, he deputed Father John to go to the council in his stead. Here John won for himself the admiration of all the prelates of the Church by his wisdom, knowledge, and virtue; and the sovereign pontiff gave him his full confidence.

Two years later, when the pope himself presided at the general chapter of the Franciscan Order for the election of a general, the pope pointed out John as the man best qualified for the office. So, he was elected minister general of the order in 1247. Universal rejoicing reigned among the good religious, especially among the surviving disciples of St Francis. They trusted that the spirit of poverty and humility would bud forth anew, and they were not disappointed in their hopes.

As general of the order, John visited practically all the convents in the various countries. He always journeyed on foot, clothed in a poor habit, accompanied by only one or two friars. Sometimes it happened that he spent several days in a convent as an unknown guest, and could without trouble observe everything that occurred before he revealed his identity. Everywhere he set the example of a perfect Friar Minor and made the best possible provision toward promoting religious perfection.

The pope, who called him an angel of peace, sent Blessed John of Parma as his legate to Constantinople to bring back the schismatic Greeks to Catholic unity. For two years John labored at this task with remarkable wisdom and much success. Upon his return he deemed it best that someone else be appointed to govern the order. This was in the year 1257. Upon the urgent request of his brethren, he named St Bonaventure as a worthy successor. He it was who completed the work begun by his predecessor.

John now withdrew to a hermitage in Greccio, where he spent a life far more angelic than human. One morning when the server failed to appear for his Holy Mass, an angel came instead. Blessed John of Parma had spent thirty-two years in this solitude when he learned that the Greeks who had been reconciled with the Church, had again relapsed into schism. Although he was then eighty years old, John was eager to undertake the journey to the East in order to restore unity. Pope Nicholas IV gladly assented to the plan. But, arriving at Camerino, John felt that his end was near. He himself exclaimed: “Here is the place of my rest.”

Blessed John of Parma received the last sacraments with great devotion, and departed from this life on the twentieth of March, in the year 1289. Numerous miracles occurred at his grave. Even those who had formerly persecuted and calumniated him came to beg his forgiveness. Pope Pius VI beatified Blessed John of Parma in 1781.

*from The Franciscan Book of Saints, Marion Habig, OFM

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