The Catholic Defender: Blessed John of Parma
St John of Parma was a Priest and abbot of Saint John’s Abbey in Parma, Italy. He was born in the 10th century AD in Parma, Italy, and died in 982 AD. We celebrate his feast day on May 22 every year in the Catholic Church.
The seventh general minister of the Franciscan Order, John was known for his attempts to bring back the earlier spirit of the Order after the death of Saint Francis of Assisi.
He was born in Parma, Italy, in 1209. It was when he was a young philosophy professor known for his piety and learning that God called him to bid good-bye to the world he was used to and enter the new world of the Franciscan Order.
After his profession, John was sent to Paris to complete his theological studies. Ordained to the priesthood, he was appointed to teach theology at Bologna, then Naples, and finally Rome.
In 1245, Pope Innocent IV called a general council in the city of Lyons, France. Crescentius, the Franciscan minister general at the time, was ailing and unable to attend. In his place he sent Friar John, who made a deep impression on the Church leaders gathered there. Two years later, when the same pope presided at the election of a minister general of the Franciscans, he remembered Friar John well and held him up as the man best qualified for the office.
And so in 1247, John of Parma was elected to be minister general. The surviving disciples of St. Francis rejoiced in his election, expecting a return to the spirit of poverty and humility of the early days of the Order. And they were not disappointed.
As general of the Order, John traveled on foot, accompanied by one or two companions, to practically all of the Franciscan convents in existence. Sometimes he would arrive and not be recognized, remaining there for a number of days to test the true spirit of the brothers.
The pope called on John to serve as legate to Constantinople, where he was most successful in winning back the schismatic Greeks. Upon his return, he asked that someone else take his place to govern the Order. At John’s urging, Saint Bonaventure was chosen to succeed him.
John took up a life of prayer in the hermitage at Greccio. Many years later, John learned that the Greeks who had been reconciled with the Church for a time, had relapsed into schism.
Though 80 years old by then, John received permission from Pope Nicholas IV to return to the East in an effort to restore unity once again. On his way, John fell sick and died. He was beatified in 1781. The liturgical feast of Blessed John of Parma is celebrated on March 20.
St. John of God of was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII on October 16, 1690, over 140 years after his death. Today he remains the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters, alcoholics and booksellers. His legacy and miracles live on through the Hospitaller Brothers and all of the good works they are accomplishing in our world today.
So he resigned his office and nominated St. Bonaventure as his successor. John retired to the hermitage of Greccio, the place where St. Francis had prepared the first Christmas crib. He spent the last thirty years of his life there in retirement. He died on March 19, 1289 and many miracles were soon reported at his tomb. His feast day is March 20th.
Trouble broke out in Paris where John had sent St. Bonaventure who was one of the greatest scholars of the Friars Minor. Blessed John went to Paris and was so humble and persuasive that the University Doctor who had caused the trouble, could only reply, "Blessed are you, and blessed are your words".
Then John went back to his work at restoring discipline to his Order. Measures were taken to make sure the Friars obeyed the Rules of the Order. In spite of all his efforts, Blessed John was bitterly opposed. He became convinced that he was not capable of carrying out the reforms that he felt was necessary.