The Life of Saint Joseph of Cupertino
This article was originally a pamphlet published by the Australian Catholic Truth Society and has now been reprinted with permission by the Society of Saint Peter Canisius Inc.
“Some people derive most benefit from reading the lives of the Saints in which the supernatural and the extraordinary abound. They delight to see the wonderful display of power of Divine Grace in so frail a creature as man. These biographies, that are written more for our admiration than for our imitation, strengthen our faith in the supernatural, and inspire us with a great confidence in the goodness and power of God. And certainly in these days se need to stimulate and strengthen the life of faith and trust in Providence.”
-Cardinal Vaughan, The Young Priest, London, 1904, p. 108
A number of biographies of St Joseph of Cupertino have been prepared in the past and give us extensive details of the extraordinary life of the saint. Of paramount importance are the thirteen volumes of the Process of Canonization preserved in the Vatican Archives. In this great literary work we find recounted the numerous testimonies of witnesses (including princes, cardinals, bishops and doctors) who knew St Joseph personally and in many cases were eyewitnesses to the wonderful events of his life. These episodes clearly reveal a man completely open to the transforming grace of God.
These volumes, however, are not available in English and are not readily accessible. Therefore it is my intention, in producing this small pamphlet of the life of this great, yet little known, saint, to attempt to show how the hand of God clearly manifested itself in St Joseph’s life and at the same time lead us to the realization that with total openness to God’s grace we may be able to recognize all the possibilities presented in our own lives.
I wish to express my indebtedness to the works of Frs. Angelo Pastrovicchi OFM Conv. and Gustavo Parishciani OFM Conv. I would also like to show my appreciation to the friars of the General Custody of Our Lady Help of Christians, Australia for their assistance and support during this project. And I would also like to thank Fr. John McCristal OFM for his valuable help in the final preparation of this pamphlet.
THE LIFE OF ST JOSEPH OF CUPERTINO
BORN IN A STABLE
Joseph’s father, Felix Desa, was a carpenter in Cupertino. Cupertino is a village of the Apulia peninsula, in the Kingdom of Naples, lying between Brindisi and Otranto. Felix was a very good-hearted and charitable man who would do anything for his friends; he would often be guarantor for the debts of others who frequently could not pay. This left him with financial burdens which forced him to flee his home and go into hiding to avoid arrest. On one such occasion the police came to seize his home and possessions and, out of fear, Felix’s wife, Frances Penara was forced to flee her home. As she was about to give birth she managed to reach a nearby stable. It was in this stable on June 17, 1603 that Joseph was born. It has been noted by a number of historians that there is a remarkable similarity between the birth of Christ, of St Francis of Assisi, and of St Joseph, as all three were born in the poor and humble surroundings of a stable.
He was baptized in the church of Our Lady of the Snow, in Cupertino, and received the name, Joseph Mary. Much of his early education was received at the hands of his pious mother who endeavored to teach her children the virtue of faith, good example, and a spirit of self-sacrifice. The efforts of his mother did not go unprepared, as Joseph grew more devout each day. He enjoyed visiting churches whenever he could and at home he built a small altar before which he used to recite the rosary and litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Later Joseph attended school, which was something rather extraordinary for his time as only the wealthy were given formal education. A number of stories have been told concerning Joseph’s school days. One in particular tells of when Joseph heard the organ playing hymns he would lapse into a trance; with these eyes raised to heaven and his mouth wide open. This happened on so many occasions that his friends called him “Bocca aperta” (open mouth).
Unfortunately Joseph’s school days were short-lived as he developed a malignant ulcer on his back, which confined him to bed for five years. Joseph bore this burden with extraordinary patience. He was unable to walk to Mass so he begged his mother to carry him to the church each morning. During his years of illness he would dream about the saints from the stories that his mother read to him. The one who made the greatest impression on him was St Francis of Assisi, so that the seed of a Franciscan vocation planted at that time began to grow.
His mother took him to Naples for an operation in the hope of curing him but this proved to be unsuccessful. A hermit who lived near the church of Our Lady of Grace in Galatone (near Cupertino) also attempted to cure the young boy by using various surgical methods that were known at the time in an effort to remove the malignant ulcer. However it seemed that the long neglect of this ulcer had rendered it incurable. Then one day the hermit anointed the ulcer with oil taken from the lamp which was kept burning before an image of Our Lady and suddenly Joseph felt relief from all pain. Joseph showed his gratitude for this by a fervent increase in his love for God and a greater striving to do God’s will in the service of the Church.
As the years passed Joseph tried his hand at a number of occupations, these included: a seller of vegetables, apprentice to a shoemaker. But due to his natural incapacity and distractions he proved unsuccessful in all his endeavours. Joseph’s life took on a more severe dimension when he began to fast three days each week and observed seven “Lents” every year (fasting for forty days each). He also abstained from all meat. This lead to a decline in his physical health but caused his sprit to rise to greater heights of sanctity and holiness. The seeds planted years before had grown and now blossomed as he continually thought of leaving the world in an attempt to serve God completely. For Joseph, this was leading him to a consideration of the priesthood.
He first thought of joining the Order of Friars Minor Conventual among whom he had many relatives. He therefore applied to his uncle, Father Francis Desa, for help in joining the order. However, Father Desa thought this nephew was unfit for the priesthood because of his lack of education ands he was unwilling to accept him. Joseph was not discouraged and feeling a strong attraction towards St Francis, he went, with some friends, to the Provincial of the Friars Minor Capuchin to ask to be admitted as a lay-brother. He was accepted and sent to the novitiate at Martina Franca in August 1620. Here he was given the name of Brother Stephen.
Joseph was sent to work in the kitchen but often broke dishes and tipped over pots trying to put wood on the fire. He was given other tasks but was clumsy and awkward in performing them. At first it was thought that his eyesight was defective but it was later discovered that he often found himself in trances as his soul became enraptured with divine love. He once said that “the Lord allows shortcomings in those who wish to serve Him perfectly. From these they draw great profit, because they learn to be humble, ask for forgiveness and then move more speedily in His ways. They are like one who stumbles while walking: by the law of nature he makes two steps ahead.”
His superiors thinking that he lacked concentration and believing him to be a daydreamer dismissed him from the novitiate after only eight months and deprived him of wearing the habit. This caused him great pain and disappointment, so much so, that it is later recorded that he said, “It seemed to me as if my skin was torn off with the habit and my flesh rent from my bones.”
Joseph, not having the courage to return home to his mother, set out for Vetrara, where his uncle, Father Desa, was preaching the Lenten sermons. It was here that he learnt of the death of his father. He was also told of the possibility of his being sent to prison by his father’s creditors.
Joseph accompanied his uncle to Cupertino. While on the way his uncle continually ridiculed him and scolded him and told him he was a “good for nothing.” Upon arriving in Cupertino his mother severely scolded her son and begged her brother-in-law to find a place for him in the Order.
Joseph spent long hours alone in his room in deep meditation and was often found wandering about as if in a daze. On some occasions the friars found him in different places, such as the Chapel of St Barbara which was near the friary, but Joseph was unaware of how he had come to these places. This was perhaps the Lord’s way of preparing him for a special mission by giving him the gift of contemplation.
On October 4, 1630 the townspeople of Cupertino held a procession in honour of St Francis of Assisi. Joseph was assisting in the procession when suddenly he soared into the air and remained there immovable before the crowd. When he eventually came down he was so embarrassed that he fled to his mother’s house to hide from the crowd. This was to be the first of many ‘flights’, which earned Joseph the name “the flying saint”. On this occasion his heart was burning with such love and devotion for St Francis that an unknown power detached him from the earth and took him into the air amid cries of admiration and fear.
His ecstatic flight bewildered Joseph and as a result he dedicated himself to living and even stricter religious life. He practiced the most severe forms of mortification. For example, he scourged himself for hours, which often caused bleeding. He refused to eat bread, meat, or to drink wine and lived only on fruit or herbs. This led to deterioration in his health and often left him on the point of collapse.
Joseph’s life began to change considerably. His ecstasies were becoming more numerous and more frequent. On hearing the name of Jesus and Mary he would go into ecstasy and would remain there for some time until the superior commanded him, under holy obedience, to return to his senses.
These ecstasies continued not only during the sixteen years that he spent at Grottella but during his whole life. In fact they were so frequent that it has been recorded that his superiors would not permit him to take part in certain community exercises for over thirty-five years as they believed it would be too great a distraction for the friars if he was to go into ecstasy.
These flights were so astonishing that hardly any other saint is known to have received such a super-abundant gift from God in this regard. In an effort to come some clearer understanding of these extraordinary events in the life of St. Joseph it might be useful to interrupt the narrative to relate some of the many ecstatic flights. It might also be helpful to mention something of levitation in general in an effort to gain some understanding of the nature of these ecstatic flights.
With reference to levitation I have relied on an article found in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 8 p. 683). In this article “levitation” is described as the suspension of a material body in the air without any visible support, in apparent opposition to the law of gravity. There seems to be little doubt concerning the fact of levitation, but it is not scientifically proved that this type of bodily suspension surpasses the psychological powers of nature. It is noted that the three possible causes of levitation are: God (directly or through the agency of angels), the devil (with God’s permission), or some force or power of nature as yet unknown. Among the numerous canonized saints who experienced levitation, the following are the most renowned: Ss Teresa of Avila, Joseph of Cupertino, Catherine of Siena, Phillip Neri, Peter Alcantara, Paul of the Cross, John Bosco, Peter Claver, and Gemma Galgani. It also pointed out that levitation is not admitted as one of the miracles required for the canonization of the saint, though it may be considered a testimony of the person’s heroic sanctity.
SOME EXAMPLES OF JOSEPH’S LEVITATION
Now to some of the episodes of levitation in Joseph’s life. In Cupertino, on one Christmas evening when Joseph heard the music of some shepherds who had come to join him in celebrating the birth of Christ, he began to dance and sing with joy was lifted up, like a bird, to the high altar. He remained there for about fifteen minutes without disturbing the candles or burning his clothes.
On another occasion during a celebration in honour of St Francis, Joseph rose above the pulpit and remained there for some time with his arms outstretched and his knees bent. Another time, on Holy Thursday night, while he was praying he suddenly rose and flew towards the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament and only when his superiors called him was he able to return him to his place. His great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is revealed in many ways, at one time he said: “When Jesus was here on earth it was not a great worth to believe in him. But now it is a great worth because we do not see him and yet we believe that he is present in this wonderful Sacrament. He does not talk face-to-face but heart to heart. And this is the greatest delight of a devout soul.” At another time Joseph was present with several nuns in the Church of St Clare in Cupertino. As soon as the choir began to sing he took the Father Confessor of the convent by the hand and lifted him up by supernatural power from the floor and danced about with him in the air.
It would be almost impossible to recount all of these extraordinary events, which took place while Joseph was in Cupertino. According to the acts of his beatification, more than seventy such flights were recorded and these do not include those, which occurred daily at Mass. At many other times and places during his life Joseph was raised into the air in ecstasy while contemplating on the Divine love of Christ. One of these occurred in the presence of the Pope, Urban VIII. On this occasion Joseph was in Rome and he accompanied the Minister General as he went to pay homage to the Holy Father. It was customary to kiss the pope’s feet and while Joseph was doing this he was filled with such reverence for Christ’s Vicar on earth that he was lifted up into the air and only when the Minister General commanded him to come down was he able to do so. The Pope told the Minister General that if Joseph died during his pontificate he would personally bear witness to this event. When Joseph was traveling with another priest they entered a small village. On going into the church the other priest wondered whether they entered mall village. On going into the church the other priest wondered whether the Blessed Sacrament was reserved there. Joseph commented that he did not know and with that he cried aloud and flew towards the tabernacle and adored the Blessed Sacrament which he miraculously knew to be present.
These ecstasies certainly had a powerful influence on the people and they would circle around the altar to touch the ‘saint’ while he was saying Mass. Some would try to test his insensibility by touching him with fire or by pricking him with needles.
IMITATION OF ST FRANCIS
Returning to the narrative it becomes evident that Joseph always strove to imitate his spiritual father, St Francis. In 1631 he received permission to make a pilgrimage to Loreto and Assisi in an effort to become even more spiritually and physically closer to St Francis. But this journey was not to take place because, as he was setting out, he found that the roads had been blocked due to spread of the plague. However, Joseph knew that he would make this pilgrimage one day and he was not to be disappointed.
In the meantime Joseph continued to exemplify the virtues of St Francis; ‘he was the herald of the King in his practice of poverty, in his love for the Infant Christ, as well as in a thousand other things” The birds had a great love for him, finches and sparrows used to keep him company. People would call him “St Francis reincarnate.” Together he and the birds would sing of the glory of God. One story that has been related concerns Joseph and the shepherds who came every Saturday for the Litany at the Chapel of St Barbara. On one of these Saturdays, Joseph insisted that the shepherds bring along their sheep with them. During the Litany, at each of the invocations, it seemed that the sheep were answering with a harmonious bleating. There was a heavy hailstorm which had killed a flock of sheep on a nearby farm. Joseph went along and picked up each of the sheep saying, “Rise in the name of God”, until all the sheep were restored to life.
Joseph, like St Francis, loved God’s creatures and for him everything reflected the image of God. Creatures were, for him, like a pair of eyeglasses and he said: “Anyone who wears the eye glasses to see only the eye glasses and nothing else is out of his mind. The same is true of those whose tastes are only for possession of material things. By means of external things God arrives at the door of the heart, but it is only means of the internal that he enters and remains therein”.
There are many other miraculous events concerning Joseph. A girl was paralyzed from a severe case of measles and through the intercession of Joseph, she was cured. A town that was hit by an extreme drought begged Joseph to pray for rain – he did and the drought ceased. In June 1634, Joseph accompanied the provincial of Puglia on his canonical visitation, as the Provincial wanted to reform the friars. He had hoped that Joseph would be an example to them. This was to be the beginning of his Calvary: this forced exhibition of his virtues was more painful to him than actual crucifixion itself. The Province had about fifty friaries. Many wonderful things happened during this visitation. The Provincial wrote: “as soon as we arrived in the different churches Joseph went into raptures. I preached with words and Joseph with deeds and with his holy life. Ad this helped many of the friars to reform their lives.”
The friars in the house in which he was staying took a keen interest in his holiness and supernatural powers, but not always for the right motives. The superior would reprimand Joseph for not accepting money and many other gifts, which were offered to him for curing people, particularly members of the nobility. But for Joseph, money and grace did not mix. He would often find himself in trouble when he returned to the friary with his habit torn as the people tried to get what they could as a relic.
His fame spread to many places and when he was traveling people came from near and far to see him and to seek his prayers. Joseph had many flights in front of thousand of people and he healed many of the sick instantly. He was greeted as a prophet and venerated as a saint. This happened to such an extent that the religious authorities became alarmed. Amongst these were certain wary individuals who did not understand Joseph’s sanctity. One such person was Monsignor Joseph Palamolla, the Vicar Apostolic of a vacant diocese, who on May 26, 1636, sent a formal letter of accusation to the Inquisition at Naples. He accused Joseph of going about attracting people to himself as if was another Messiah and performing works which the gullible people believed to be miracles.
JOSEPH ON TRIAL
Joseph became greatly disturbed over this incident and therefore wished to withdraw completely from the public eye. Although he considered it a cross he must bear he nevertheless asked his superior if he could say Mass privately as he had a fear that people were watching him intensely to see if he would make any mistakes that could be reported. While he was praying for guidance on August 2, 1637, Our Lady appeared to him and told him that he would no longer have.
[Discovered error in pamphlet. The paragraph ends and a new one starts, something must be omitted]
He returned to Grottella where he became aware of the trial which was awaiting him. Very soon he would relive the “Way of the Cross” and experience all the sufferings of Jesus, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem to Calvary. To prepare himself for this trial he wanted the “Stations of the Cross” to be placed along the road leading to the Grottella church. Ten men tried to place the last cross in place but they could not lift it up. Joseph went into ecstasy, flew up and lifted it into place.
Finally, Joseph received a letter from Rome commanding him to present himself to the Inquisition at Naples. Joseph, totally obedient, set out on October 21, 1638 for Naples. He was accompanied by two friars. It took a month to arrive at Naples as they had to walk hundreds of miles with all the discomforts of a long journey, during inclement weather, climbing mountains and hills to avoid the main roads as they had been ordered by the Holy Office. When they arrived in Naples, Joseph was unfavourably received at the friary of St Lawrence because all knew the reason for his visit. They knew he had been summoned to appear before the Inquisition and most thought this would be a cause of great scandal for the Order. The next day he set out for the offices of the Tribunal with Brother Louis. He noticed a young friar at his side as he walked along. The friar gave him great consolation and strength. When he arrived at the offices he asked Brother Louis about the friar who had now disappeared. When Brother Louis said that he had not seen him, Joseph believed that St Anthony of Padua had appeared to him to give him strength to face the Inquisition.
He was detained for several weeks and examined on a number of occasions but they could not find no fault. In fact they found a life worth of admiration and imitation. The judges had Joseph celebrate Mass in their presence to see if anything extraordinary would take place. However, nothing exceptional happened during the Mass. Thus Our Lady had kept her promise to Joseph. But after Mass, while Joseph was offering his thanksgiving to God, he flew over the altar and remained there for several minutes.
On December 9, the final stage of the trial was completed and all the documents were sent to Rome for further examination in which the Pope himself would take part. This resulted in a clear declaration of his innocence. In February, 1639 he was ordered to appear before the Minister General in Rome. On approaching the Eternal City he wished to enter it in the same way his father St Francis had done, in poverty. So he and Brother Louis laid their last silver coin on a stone for the benefit for the first person who should pass by.
The Pope had commanded the Minister General to send Joseph to the friary in which the rule was most perfectly observed. This caused the Minister General to change his plans as he had hoped to send Joseph to the most obscure and isolated friary that he could find. However, upon the directive of the Pope, the Minister General made plans to send Joseph to the friary at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi. It is known as the ‘Sacred Convent’. This brought great joy to Joseph who had always dreamed of living in Assisi near the tomb of his Seraphic Father. He left Rome after Easter, on April 24, and arrived at Assisi at the end of the month.
Joseph’s joy did not last long as it appeared that God had other plans for him. He was to be tested anew by the withdrawal of consolation, by persecutions, temptations and spiritual dryness which were meant to purify his soul. Joseph was to experience what the great mystics, in particular St John of the Cross, would call the ‘dark night of the soul’. Joseph no longer had ecstasies and experienced aridity during spiritual reading, while praying and even celebrating Mass. God seemed to be deaf to his pleading and he slumped into a depression far greater than he had experienced at Grottella. It appeared that Joseph’s heart had been broken and this manifested itself in its external appearance. His facial features changed dramatically and his body appeared as if it appeared it was being weighed down with a great load. The devil frequently tempted Joseph down with a great load. The devil frequently tempted Joseph in many ways which caused him to wake from nightmares. These assaults lasted almost two years but Joseph, though terrified, was able to resist and his soul was to become even firmer and stronger and unshakeable. God’s supernatural grace had not allowed him to be tested beyond his limits.
He would remark that men became disturbed over their continual failure in the search for success: “It is better to consider everything in this world for God’s glory, for it adds to our merit when we suffer for His Divine Majesty” And he further added: “To suffer for the love of God is a great blessing, and man is not worthy of it. Man thanks God only when we receive favours from Him, and yet it is a greater blessing to suffer than to receive. Christ did not pay for our redemption with silver or gold, but with agonizing pain, suffering, and death. And so, God wants man to pay with the same kind of money.” “Just as it is necessary to hammer away at a coin to imprint the image of the king on it, so it is the same with Christ: He imprints his image on the souls of his servants by the hammering blows of suffering.”
He prayed to be allowed to return to Grottella. The Minister General, hearing of Joseph’s unrest, summoned him to Rome. While he was on the way he heard the voice of God asking him, “What do you desire?” “What do you seek?” “What do you demand?” “Am I not the same here as there?” Enlightened by these words, Joseph knew he would be returning to Assisi.
After a short stay in Rome he returned to Assisi. Upon entering the church he saw a picture of Our Lady on the ceiling similar to that at Grottella, and he cried out, “Ah, my dear mother you have followed me,” and he was lifted up into the air towards the picture.
The City Council had unanimously proposed and approved that Joseph was to make an honourary citizen of Assisi. A few days later the friars declared him to be a full member of the community of the Sacred Convent in Assisi. Joseph became the source of consolation to everyone. There was hardly anyone in Assisi who, at one time or another, did not come to him seeking his prayers or advice, including the bishop, Monsignor Baglioini Malatesta.
MIRACLES AND DEVOTION TO OUR LADY
Joseph lived in Assisi for another nine years where he spent his entire day in prayer. His day would be occupied with the recitation of the Divine Office (the official prayer of the Church), the entire rosary, spiritual reading, two hours of meditation and many other devotional prayers. Late in the evening he would secretly go to the Basilica to pray before the tomb of St Francis or the Blessed Sacrament or before the image of Our Lady, often till midnight.
He celebrated Mass every morning after having gone to confession. Mass usually lasted two hours, although on the more common feasts it could go on for as long as five hours. It was during the Mass that God revealed to Joseph his divine powers; he flew, he fell, he danced, he wept. These happenings had a precise meaning for Joseph. As he meditated upon the presence of Christ in the host he found he was unable to elevate it. When he found difficulty in breaking it he knew it was because there was somebody nearby in the state of serious sin. If during an ecstasy he fell to the ground it meant that he had seen the offended face of Christ.
These special graces, given to Joseph, were the result of the divine love which burned in his heart and showed how united his soul was to God. The saint expressed himself in the following manner: “I want to love and serve God. I don’t want to be cured of loving and serving Him. I don’t serve God for the sake of heaven, nor out of fear of hell, but for God Himself.” Joseph said after this he had been to the doctor due to pains in his chest and it appeared that his ribs had spread apart because of his strong and burning love for God. One priest, after coming from a conversation with Joseph, is recorded as having said: “He is perfectly united to God, and his heart is more disposed to this union than powder is to be ignited by the smallest spark.” This union found expression in Joseph’s continual life of prayer. It seemed that he was able to raise his spirit to God with little effort and he always found God ready to inspire him and enlighten him and draw him ever closer to Himself. It was with this lively faith and firm trust in God that he was able to spend so much time praying for others. He would entreat the faithful to trust in God alone. He assured them that God would provide then with what they needed; He never failed.
We have already seen some of the cases in which St Joseph’s intercession was effective; so let us briefly mention a few other episodes. At one time, Cupertino was in danger of being struck by a severe storm but through his prayers the hurricane ceased. On another occasion, through Joseph’s intercession a doctor was able to pass by without being noticed by six assassins who sought to attack and rob him on his way home to Assisi. It was if as the doctor would become invisible. At another time the Minister General of the Order was saved from drowning when he sought the intercession of St Joseph. The Minister General was riding along on his mule when it became startled and fell from a bridge. The priest felt he would surely die but through Joseph’s intercession he was able to escape unharmed. When Joseph saw the priest later he recalled how he had seen him in danger from his fall just as he was saying Mass and how he therefore prayed for his safety.
Joseph was able to appear in more than one place at the same time. On one occasion, while he was still in Assisi he was seen in the little church in Grotella, where he went into ecstasy and disappeared. Another episode recalls that an old priest, who used to be Joseph’s confessor, was very ill. He saw Joseph appear at the foot of his bed and reassured him that he would get well. At another time, Joseph’s mother, Frances, was dying and she called upon her son for help. The people present in the room noticed only a ray of lightning shining through the window and that Frances seemed to be talking to someone, she then died whispering, “Oh, Joseph, my son!”
Joseph was always truthful when people approached him for prayer, even when he saw an imminent danger in the lives of the people. To one woman who asked Joseph to pray for her two sons who were about to receive doctorate degrees, he replied that soon the doctors would be in heaven. The two sons died a few days later. He also predicted the deaths that Father Palma would become Bishop of Oria, Monsignor Roberti the bishop of Leuca, Monsignor Albergati the archbishop of Bologna, and Cardinal Emil Altieri, Pope.
The words from the process of beatification express these events quite succinctly: “His prayer was never in vain, but always obtained what he implored for the welfare of the soul and the body; even those who merely commended themselves to him, received the desired favour at the moment he prayed for them.”
Joseph’s great devotion to Mary, the Mother of God was extraordinary. He attributed all the benefits that he received from God to Mary’s intercession. He would call Mary his mother and adorned her images with flowers. His heart belonged to her and this is apparent from the continued prayers which he recited in her honour. He would call her his protectress, lady, patroness, mother, and helper. He would often sing simple and joyful songs to her. He would experience frequent ecstasies and flights when he saw her image or heard her name. In fact his greatest flight occurred on December 8, 1642, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Franciscans, since the foundation of the Order, have always placed great emphasis on devotion to Mary. And it was they who fought so strongly in defense of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This is today one of the major feasts of the Franciscans which they celebrate with great solemnity.
He would encourage people’s love for Mary by exhorting them to give their hearts and wills to her. This is what she desired above all. He even said, “My Mother (the Virgin Mary) is ‘odd!’ If I bring her flowers she tells me that she doesn’t want them; if I bring her roseberrries, she also doesn’t want them. Then I asked her, ‘What do you want?’ And she answered me: ‘I want flesh!’ And when I insisted: ‘What kind of flesh?’ She answered: ‘the flesh of your heart, for I do not feed but on hearts’.” Joseph hoped that Mary would be loved and praised, not only by the angels and saints, but also by all people on earth. He would ask the people who had been cured or who had received favours not to thank him but rather to thank their heavenly Mother, for it was through her intercession that they had been cured or had their requests granted.
Joseph stated his love of God began with devotion to Mary and the fame of this as likewise due to the many graces which people received from Mary because of his prayers, In dying he invoked her in the words of the ‘Ave Maris Stella’: “Show thyself a Mother; offer him our sighs, who for us Incarnate did not Thee despise.”
Joseph continued to celebrate Mass in the Basilica in Assisi until April 1646 when he again requested to say Mass privately. The measure was adopted due to the large crowds that continually flocked Joseph’s Masses. Many even tried to touch him during his ecstasies to see what would happen. Joseph thought that the Church looked more like a public square and this disgusted him so much that he tried to celebrate Mass quickly in the hope that he would avoid having an ecstasy.
His superior, fearing a repetition of what happened some years earlier which resulted in Joseph appearing before the Inquisition, ordered him to say Mass privately in the chapel close to his room. Joseph was only too happy to follow his order, and the number of ecstasies increased due to the interior calm that he now experienced. However, this calmness was not to last long. Again the isolation left him in an almost continual state of depression. He seemed to have yet another cross to bear. His friends abandoned him and he became more sensitive about preserving his good name. Gossip began to spread about him, although this was to put to a stop by Cardinal Odescalchi (later Blessed Pope Innocent XI) who was a great friend of Joseph.
In his isolation he was faced with temptations, physical and moral fatigue, insomnia, scruples, and recurrent fits of depression. He was not even permitted to preach or hear confessions; in short the only thing he was permitted to do was to celebrate Mass privately. He was no longer allowed to join in the processions and festivities of the great feast days. When the friars went off to these celebrations he always found himself alone in the friary. In all these obstacles one can see a further stepping stone, which led Joseph to even greater degrees of perfection. As time went on he gave more interest and attention to the interior life and less concern to what people thought of him. He said: “In this world we should not be worried about what people are saying of us. If they say bad things about us, that’s not important. If they say good things the good is of God.”
Soon devotion spread to him spread throughout Italy and all over Europe. His room became almost continually occupied by visitors who had come to seek his aid. They included Provincials, the Minister General, monsigniori, bishops, cardinals, counts, knights, and princes. Joseph always found time to have a word with each of them. Pages and pages are filled with his advice, admonitions, and predictions of some miracles.
THE HEAVY CROSS
Pope Innocent X, on learning of Joseph’s many rare gifts and of the great crowds of people who were going to Assisi to visit him, decided it would be best to remove him in order to preserve his sanctity. The Holy Office prepared the arrangements in which Joseph was, for a time, to be removed from the jurisdiction of his Order, the Conventual Fransiscans, and placed under the care of the Capuchin Fransiscans. It was advised that Joseph should be taken to one of the Capuchin hermitages; the one at Pietarubbia was suggested. In some ways Joseph longed for a period of rest as he had become tired of the strenuous life which had deprived him of time for prayer. He had been forced to receive visitors almost every hour and write letters to the nobility without time to pause for a rest. Joseph had by divine revelation foreseen this trial but he still became anxious about leaving the beloved friars near the tomb of St Francis. However, his superiors repeatedly assured him that all would be well. Joseph’s sense of obedience prevailed and he said: “I look only for the will of God. I want to obey always and look for God. I look only for my crucified Lord. I am happy to stay anywhere, for everywhere I want to stay with the holy obedience.” On July 23, 1653 he set out on the journey. Even though he did not know where he was going he placed his complete trust in God who had shown him in a dream, how he would be living in a Capuchin friary situated on top of a mountain. An inner voice kept telling him that he would have to carry.
The journey was another occasion in which God revealed the saint’s virtue. In one of the houses in which he stayed overnight, a young girl with a very high fever was cured by his prayers. At another place a stone mason who had become lame many years prior had found himself at Joseph’s feet, whereupon Joseph gave him blessing and the man walked away cured.
Upon arriving at Pietarubbia, a small village on the top of a steep hill, Joseph saw the hermitage of St Lawrence and realized that this was the one he had seen in a dream. He was placed under the Guardian, Father John Baptist of Montegrimano, who was given strict instructions that Joseph was not to associate with anyone but the Capuchins and was not to write or receive letters.
The Capuchin friars soon became relieved when they realized that their prisoner was none other than Joseph of Cupertino. Joseph soon settled in and continued to practice mortification, patience, and many other virtues. He won the affection of all the friars, who would spend hours in his room listening to him and carefully observing him when he would go into ecstasy. The following are some of the things that he told the friars: “Love and charity towards our neighbor are the basis of our faith”; “The true sign of whether or not God is present, is to see whether or not you are united to Him.” Likewise, he wrote, “He who is patient always and everywhere does much. He who has charity is rich and doesn’t know it. Love and charity make one happy”; “We should have compassion on our neighbor out of love for the passion of Christ. God makes us feel our neighbour’s suffering, so we can meditate more easily on His passion”.
Joseph had not been forgotten by God who continued to bless him with knowledge of the secrets of others, with revelations of future events, with frequent miracles, apparitions of angels and saints and of Jesus, and also with more abundant ecstasies.
It had been the intention of the Holy Office that Joseph live in obscurity in this isolated hermitage; but instead, Joseph became so widely known that the small church could not hold all the people who came to his Masses. The Guardian was placed in a predicament because the regulations laid down by the Holy Office said nothing about forbidding people to attend his Masses. The Guardian therefore notified his Provincial and asked for advice concerning this matter which was getting out of hand.
JOSEPH GOES TO FOSSOMBRONE
On August 18, the Holy Office intervened and strictly forbade any of the people to attend his Masses and to ensure that his directive was carried out a delegate was sent to enforce its observance. Soon the friary was able to return to a life of contemplation.
This still left the Holy Office with the problem of what to do with Joseph. After some deliberation it was decided to send him to the Capuchin hermitage of Fossombrone. Near the end of September, the Archbishop of Urbino was sent orders to have Joseph secretly transferred to the new hermitage. The Archbishop delegated his Vicar General to supervise this transfer. Joseph immediately obeyed these orders and set out at once for Fossombrone. Joseph’s positive attitude to holy obedience is reflected in his writings. “Obedience”, he wrote, “is a sword that kills our will by sacrificing it to God. It is the same sword which sacrificed Jesus who became obedient unto death.” Death was preferred, by Joseph, to disobedience.
Although the journey was undertaken in the strictest secrecy his arrival became known to all the people, who came in throngs to see this saint. The Guardian had been given instructions that people were not to see Joseph, or to even know that he was there, with the exception of the Capuchins. In fact, the only person to see Joseph during this time was Bishop Zeccadora who had been instructed by the Holy Office to keep a sharp eye on Joseph.
Joseph experienced many ecstasies at Fossombrone, many of which were witnessed on solemn occasions, or before images of the saints. Needless to say, Joseph’s ecstatic flights occurred daily, and were just as spectacular as those at Assisi. One event of particular significance occurred on the Tuesday following Easter. On this day Christ relived for Joseph the event of Emmaus (c.f. Luke 24: 13-53) After Mass the figure of Christ passed through the corridors of the friary while Joseph followed. Later, he told the other friars how blessed they had been to receive a visit from the heavenly traveler.
Another extraordinary event occurred on the vigil of Epiphany in 1655. Joseph told the superior, in confidence, that the Pope was dead. He recalled that while he was celebrating Mass, God had granted him the grace of seeing the Pope lying in his bed at Rome, breathing his last. As a result of this vision Joseph was able to offer the Mass for the repose of the soul of Pope Innocent X. Official news of the Pope’s death arrived at Fossombrone the next day. This was the second time that Joseph had seen the death of a Pope.
With the death of Innocent X, the Conventual Franciscans raised their hopes once more that Joseph would be released from his exile. A delegation of several Provincials entreated the Pope, Alexander VII, for Joseph’s return to the Order. The Pope asked where they wished to send Joseph after they returned. The Provincials responded that they would send him to Assisi. However, in May, 1656, after pondering upon the situation, the Holy Father informed the Minister General that he wished that Joseph would be sent to the friary at Osimo, an old city in the Marches of Ancona. The Pope apparently wanted to keep and eye on the situation, as his nephew was the bishop of Osimo.
However, before the Pope’s directives could be acted upon, a fatal outbreak of bubonic plague spread throughout Italy. In this event Joseph’s return to his own Order was postponed. Joseph knew that this would happen and by divine revelation he also had been given the insight to when he would be leaving. He knew the exact time. At 8.30 p.m. on July 6, 1657 Joseph sat staring out of the window, and when he was asked what he was doing he replied that he would be leaving in a few hours as the Secretary General of the Order was coming to take him back. About an hour later the Secretary General arrived with the instructions from Rome and they left together that night. On their way to Osimo they arrived at their own friary of St Victor (which had been founded by St Francis himself). Joseph immediately kissed the floor and walls and exclaimed that he could now die happily because he was at last home with his brothers. The bishop of Fossombrone also came to meet with Joseph and spent a considerable time conversing with him.
The following morning they continued on their way to Osimo. Their journey was delayed at a few places when it was apparent that the people had recognized Joseph and crowded around him to touch him, to seek his prayers and request his help in gaining particular favours. Nearing Osimo they decided to wait until evening before proceeding on to the friary. So it was that they were able to arrive at the friary without being recognized. Joseph was given a secluded room with a private chapel so that he would not be annoyed by the people. This had been the command of the Pope. During the remainder of his life Joseph did hot speak to anyone except the Bishop, his Vicar General, the religious of the friary, and in case of need, the doctor. He left his room only to visit the sick friars in the house and once, at night when the doors were locked, to look at the church.
Again Joseph continued to have his ecstasies. A number of these were witnessed by Cardinal Bichi, bishop of Osimo. Joseph had predicted that the bishop would be made a cardinal. On one occasion while he was sitting beside Joseph, he saw him rise and with outstretched arms remain motionless for some time. Sometimes these raptures lasted for as long as six or seven hours.
At Osimo Joseph continued to live a life of prayer. He lived for God alone and only slept for brief periods. He ate very little food, being satisfied with what was set before him. In fact he did not even complain when a brother neglected to bring any food to his room for two days.
It was further noticed that although Joseph had not visited the city of Osimo and he was not permitted to meet any of its citizens, he was still able to speak of the city and people, of their homes and their affairs, both public and private, as if he had seen all with his own eyes.
Nevertheless little of any great importance seems o have happened during his six years at Osimo. He continued to progress greatly in his fervent love for Gad and the Blessed Virgin. He was content to accept all from God and he would often say: “Lord, I believe; I do not care to see”.
HIS LAST DAYS
When Joseph had arrived at the friary in Osimo he had foretold that he would die there. He revealed the approach of his death to Father Sylvester Evangelisti when the latter returned to Osimo after being away two years. He even foretold the day of his death as being the day he could no longer receive Holy Communion.
A great fever seized him on August 10, 1663, and this filled him with a great joy, as he knew the day was approaching when he would be completely united with God. He commented, as he had on other occasions, that he did not “serve God for the sake of Paradise, or out of fear of hell.” He further said, “I long only for him and if because of my sins I should be condemned to hell, I would like to stay in a separate place from the damned because I do not want to hear them cursing God; and in that separate place, with all the pious of hell, I would continue to love and praise God.” And he often used to pray: “Lord I love you so much that if I knew I was going to hell, I would love you the same as the greatest saint does in heaven and I would say to you: send me wherever you want to.” Because of this he would pray to God for his return to health. The rigorous life that he had led had so weakened him physically that he could no long offer any substantial resistance to the fever. The fever seemed to come and go over the next five days, allowing him to rise each morning to celebrate Mass in his private chapel. He still continued to experience the physical soaring of his spirit although now to a greater degree than ever. The most prominent of these occurred on August 15, the feast of the Assumption. On this occasion he experienced miraculous ecstasies and flights during what was to be the last Mass that he was able to celebrate.
The fever had now reached such a point that he was no longer able to celebrate the Mass, yet he requested permission to be able to assist at Mass and to receive Holy Communion each morning.
The fever continued to take hold of him to the extent that he was no longer able to get out of bed, although he still insisted that he wanted to continue to receive Holy Communion each day. During this time he continued to pray for the Pope and the Church. The Holy See had been kept well informed about the condition of his health, especially during these last days.
In early September Joseph’s health seemed to improve but on September 6 he had a relapse. He began to mumble, “the jackass (meaning his body) has now began to climb the mountain.” The friars were unsure of the meaning of his words but they soon understood. As his condition worsened he would say, “the jackass has reached the top of the mountain. He can no longer move. He will have to leave his hide here.” This was his way of giving the friars a sign.
On the morning of September 12, in spite of his extreme weakness, when Joseph heard the sound of the bell that was rung to announce Christ’s arrival in Holy Communion, he leapt to his feet and ran towards the priest. He then remained in ecstasy for fifteen minutes and eventually had to be carried back to his bed. He used to say: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, oh take me up to there to Paradise, so that I can delight in seeing your face and love you more and more and sing your praises with the angels. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, I don’t want to stay here any more but want to come there.”
He received Extreme Unction, requested the profession of faith to be read and begged pardon of all, for his faults. The Vicar General then asked Joseph to bless all those present. After receiving the blessing, the Vicar General told Joseph that he had been authorized by the Holy Father, to give him the papal blessing. Joseph became overwhelmed that the Pope should be mindful of so lowly and worthless a friar as himself. He therefore requested that he be taken to the chapel to receive this great honour. He rose and with the aid of the friars went to the Chapel where the Litany was recited. Joseph then knelt and received the papal blessing with great devotion.
On September 16, Joseph’s strength had completely left him. His tongue became so swollen he could barely speak. On the following day, he could hardly swallow the small host which he offered to the Pope and the Church. On Tuesday, September 18, due to the dryness of his mouth and the swelling of his tongue, it became impossible for Joseph to receive Holy Communion. All during this day he prayed while he awaited what St Francis had called “Sister Death”. As the evening grew late, most of the friars reluctantly went to bed, leaving only a few of the friars with two doctors. Joseph was barely able to respond, “Amen”, to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin and to the prayers of the dying. Then shortly before midnight, with a smile, he made his final and most ecstatic flight to God.
Throughout the entire day of the September 19 crowds of people packed into the sacristy of the friary-chapel to pay their last respects to Joseph of Cupertino. Twenty-four men (eight canons of the Cathedral, eight noblemen, and eight friars) were detailed to guard the sacred remains in case the people might attempt to steal the body.
The burial took place the following morning in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception where to this day pilgrimages to the tomb of St Joseph have been continued.
BEATIFICATION AND CANONIZATION
Due to the many and astounding miracles, by which God glorified his servant after death, the Holy See directed that inquiries should be conducted regarding the virtuous life of Joseph of Cupertino. These inquiries began in those dioceses where Joseph had lived, namely: Osimo, Assisi, and Nardo (in which diocese was Cupertino).
On the feast of St Mathias, February 24, 1753, Joseph of Cupertino was solemnly beatified by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XIV, in the Vatican Basilica, and he received the title of “Blessed”, along with the right to be venerated by the faithful. Again a new wave of devotion to Blessed Joseph of Cupertino spread all over Europe.
The miracles worked through his intercession continued to multiply. As a result of this, a number of bishops, noblemen, together with the Conventual Franciscans, petitioned the Holy See to take up the cause of Joseph’s canonization. And on July 16, 1767, (the anniversary of the canonization of St Francis of Assisi – 1228), in all the glory and splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, Blessed John was raised to the altar of the saints.
Pope Benedict proclaimed September 18 as the feast day of St Joseph of Cupertino. On August 8, 1769, Pope Clement XIV extended the feast of St Joseph into the Roman Missal, thereby extending it to the universal Church. In 1781, Count John Baptist Sinibaldi erected a large marble altar in the Church of St Francis in Osimo, so that the remains of St Joseph might be placed beneath it. There they have remained ever since. The Conventual Friars remodeled the Church, which was originally dedicated to St Francis of Assisi and rededicated it to St Joseph of Cupertino. Pope Pius VI raised the church to the dignity of a lesser Basilica.
St Joseph of Cupertino is called upon today as “the saint of Flyers” because of his mystical levitations, especially towards the Eucharist and Our Lady. In some countries he is invoked as the Patron of those undergoing examinations (for example, in Italy, France, Australia, and America) and also as the patron of anyone traveling by air (in America and by the pilots of NATO).
PRAYERS IN HONOUR OF ST JOSEPH OF CUPERTINO
Prayer to St Joseph to be recited by students, particularly during examination time:
O humble, St Joseph of Cupertino, ever helpful to those who seek your aid, hear me in my present need. By that love which carried you to God, and by that burning affection which made you a devoted son of the Mother of our Savior and a loyal follower of your spiritual father, St Francis of Assisi, help me to be a successful student. Grant that the seed which I am sowing may bear a rich harvest. Help me to be attentive to my studies so that I may profit by them, and particularly that I may undergo examinations without fear. O good, St Joseph you know well the trials and tribulations of students. Intercede for me that I may be successful by divine aid just as you were successful through the goodness of God. I placed my trust entirely in your hands, realizing that so long as I work for the honour and glory of God, that hope will not be in vain.
During the time of your tests and examinations, the young seminarians of the sanctuary of St Joseph of Cupertino will unite with you and support your prayers at the altar in Osimo (Italy), where the saint reposes and watches. Have faith!
Prayer to St Joseph of Cupertiono for help in leading a good life:
O glorious St Joseph of Cupertino, who in this life spoke constantly in the hearts of the faithful through heroic virtues and marvellous wonders by the hand of God, turn to us who implore your blessing. Arouse in our hearts some spark of that divine love which so inflamed your soul, so that we may desire nothing more than to please God all the days of our lives. And just as you were lifted up from the earth in ecstasy on hearing the names of Jesus and Mary, pray that we, too, may detach ourselves from the things of earth, realise the vanity of the world, detest our sins and obtain pardon from them. Strengthen our faith, O good St Joseph, revive our hope and inflame our love, so that we may have Jesus always in our minds and hearts, and after a good Christian death may merit to enjoy His glory with you in paradise. Amen.
When praying, let us follow the counsel of St Joseph of Cupertino: “The most powerful means of obtaining a favour from God is holy indifference in full resignation to his will.” Our prayer is always heard: Divine Providence either gives the requested favour or prepares us for grace infinitely greater. The best way is to give thanks is to be obedient in all things to the will of God and to imitate the virtues of St Joseph of Cupertino.
Prayer of thanks:
I give you thanks, O my God, for having heard me, but much more because you have infused faith in You into my heart. I always want to say, “Your will be done”; Your will is my greatest good. I thank the beloved Saint Joseph who has presented you his merits on my behalf and has been a second Guardian Angel to me.
If you require further information of the life and merits of this great saint, please write to:
St Joseph of Cupertino Friary,
Dimar Court, Dingley, Vic., 3172.
© Society of Saint Peter Canisius 1985