The Catholic Defender: Saint James of the Marche’s Story
James was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor and began a very austere life.
St. James of the Marches was a Franciscan priest in the 15th century. He was born into a poor family in Monteprandone, Italy in 1391 and was educated by his uncle who was a priest. He continued his education, eventually achieving the degree of Doctor in Canon and Civil Law from the University of Perugia.
St James of the Marches preached penance, combated heretics, and was on legations in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, and Bosnia. He was also appointed inquisitor against the Fratelli, a heretic sect that dissented from the Franciscans on the vow of poverty, among other things. He was offered the See of Milan in 1460, but he refused it.
Inspired by St. Jame's apostolic example, more than 200 young men of Germany were impelled to enter the Franciscan Order. The crowds who came to hear him were so great that the churches were not large enough to accommodate them, and it became imperative for him to preach in the public squares.
James wanted the word of God to take root in the hearts of his listeners. His preaching was directed to preparing the soil, so to speak, by removing any rocks and softening up lives hardened by sin. God’s intention is that his word take root in our lives, but for that we need both prayerful preachers and cooperative listeners.
At Milan he was instrumental in converting 36 women of bad repute by a single sermon on St. Mary Magdalen. It is said that he brought 50,000 heretics into the Church and led 200,000 nonbelievers to baptism. In addition, God granted St James such wisdom that popes and princes sought counsel from him. He possessed the gifts or miracles and of prophesy in great measure, yet his humility surpassed all those distinctions.
He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. Saint Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances.
He worked for some time as a tutor in a noble family, but on July 26, 1416, he was received into the order of Friars Minor in the Chapel of the Portiuncula in Assisi.
James studied theology with Saint John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries.
After completing his novitiate, he studied theology under St. Bernardine of Siena. On June 13, 1420, St. James was ordained a priest, and soon began to preach in Tuscany, in the Marches, and in Umbria. For half a century, he continued as a missionary and preacher.
This extremely popular preacher converted many people–250,000 at one estimate–and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives, and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence.
With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano, and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the “four pillars” of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching.
To combat extremely high interest rates, James established montes pietatis—literally, mountains of charity—nonprofit credit organizations that lent money on pawned objects at very low rates.
Not everyone was happy with the work James did. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him. James died in 1476, and was canonized in 1726.
It is said that he brought 50,000 heretics into the Church and led 200,000 nonbelievers to baptism. In addition, God granted St James such wisdom that popes and princes sought counsel from him. He possessed the gifts or miracles and of prophesy in great measure, yet his humility surpassed all those distinctions.
He was offered the See of Milan in 1460, but he refused it.
James spent the last three years of his life at Naples, and was buried there in the Franciscan church of St. Maria la Nuova, where his body can be seen today.
He was beatified by Urban VIII in 1624 and was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. Naples venerates him as one of its patron saints.