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The Catholic Defender: Saint Joseph of Cupertino

Joseph of Cupertino was a Conventual Franciscan Friar (OFM Conv.) and is recognized and honored as a Christian mystic and saint. He is the patron saint of aviation, astronauts, mental handicaps, test taking, and students.

During Mass or prayer, he would often be lifted from his feet—he was observed levitating more than 70 times. The experience of levitation is a physical expression of the deep prayer that raises the heart and mind to God. In Joseph's case, a number of his levitations were well-documented.

Joseph of Cupertino is most famous for levitating at prayer. Already as a child, Joseph showed a fondness for prayer. After a short career with the Capuchins, he joined the Conventual Franciscans. Following a brief assignment caring for the friary mule, Joseph began his studies for the priesthood. Though studies were very difficult for him, Joseph gained a great deal of knowledge from prayer. He was ordained in 1628.

Joseph’s tendency to levitate during prayer was sometimes a cross; some people came to see this much as they might have gone to a circus sideshow. Joseph’s gift led him to be humble, patient, and obedient, even though at times he was greatly tempted and felt forsaken by God. He fasted and wore iron chains for much of his life.

The friars transferred Joseph several times for his own good and for the good of the rest of the community. He was reported to and investigated by the Inquisition; the examiners exonerated him.

Joseph was canonized in 1767. In the investigation preceding the canonization, 70 incidents of levitation are recorded.

Often depicted flying through the air with a cross, he is the patron of flight, aviators, and air travelers celebrated with a feast day on Sept. 18. Pope Clement XIII canonized him in 1767. Joseph Cupertino led a life with great highs and spirituality following his birth in 1603 in Nardo, Kingdom of Naples.

While levitation is an extraordinary sign of holiness, Joseph is also remembered for the ordinary signs he showed. He prayed even in times of inner darkness, and he lived out the Sermon on the Mount. He used his “unique possession”–his free will–to praise God and to serve God’s creation.


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