Bernardino, a native of northern Italy, at first practiced the legal profession, but when 34 he decided to join the Jesuits. For ten years he worked at Naples, preaching, teaching catechism, visiting the sick, the poor, and those in prison. Then he was transferred to Lecce, eventually becoming the rector of the Jesuit community there. It was at Lecce that he died, aged 86. By the time of his death he was recognized as a man of great zeal and holiness. Those who had known the dead man at once hailed him as a saint. Out of his veneration came his beatification and, in 1947, his canonization.
Most of St. Bernardino’s fame was acquired after his death, because of certain marvels that occurred in connection with his body. Six years before his death he fell and sustained two wounds that refused to heal. While he was in his last illness, those close to him, because of their veneration of him, collected the blood discharged from these wounds in several small phials.
This blood acted strangely. That in some of the phials retained its liquid consistency for over a century. In others it foamed or frothed, particularly on the occasion of the saint’s anniversary of death. Several witnesses testified to these phenomena during the investigation before his beatification. When his tomb was opened in 1711, some of his fleshy tissue remained incorrupt, floating in a dark red liquid. This too, proved to be human blood, and it gave off a sweet perfume. In 1713 it was also found to be frothing or bubbling, as it was again in 1804 and 1852. In 1985, however, none of the blood preserved showed any such tendencies.
One is reminded, of course, of the similar liquefaction of the blood of a still more ancient saint, Bishop St. Januarius of Benevento. Each year on Januarius’ feastday, September 19, two phials in the cathedral of Naples, traditionally holding his blood in a clotted form, liquefy. I witnessed this on one occasion. Scientific study in the case of both the blood of St. Januarius and St. Bernardino has been unable to come up with a natural explanation of the happenings. Still, we are not bound to consider the events miraculous, and the Church does not canonize people because of them. If they do come from a heavenly source, they can be considered as “signs” rather than major miracles, like the perfume associated with Padre Pio, or the dance of the sun at Fatima, or (perhaps) the tendency at Medjugorje of silver-chained rosaries to assume a gold color. Those who feel uncomfortable about accepting such phenomena, have no need to accept them. But those whose faith is lavish can find in them further confirmation of God’s abiding presence.
–Father Robert F. McNamara