St. John Joseph of the Cross

(1654-1734)

What St. Francis of Assisi was to central Italy in the 13th century, St. John Joseph Calosirto was to southern Italy in the 18th century.

St. John Joseph was baptized Carlo Calosirto. He was a native of the Island of Ischia, off the Tyrrhenian coast near Naples. Carlo’s parents were remarkable: prosperous yet very devout. They saw that of their large brood. Carlo was really special. So when they found him precociously devoted to prayer and acts of self-denial, they did not interfere.

When he was a teenager, Carlo made a novena to discover what sort of life God wanted him to follow. As if in answer, two Spanish Franciscans visited his home begging for alms. They belonged to a reformist branch of the Franciscan order called the Alcantarines, after their leader, the Spanish friar St. Peter of Alcantara. Young Carlo entered the Alcantarines at age 16, taking the religious name Friar John Joseph of the Cross. His superiors, recognizing his mettle, quickly advanced him to positions of responsibility in the growing Italian branch of the Alcantarine friars. Appointed master of novices, he trained his wards well in the strict observance of the Franciscan rule, although he was too prudent to require of them the sort of arduous penances that he constantly imposed upon himself.

John Joseph was also called on to be a peacemaker among his brother friars. Ethnic friction soon arose, understandable but regrettable, between the Spanish Alcantarines in Italy and their Italian confreres. The result, unfortunately, was a split in the community. St. John was turned to as a counsellor. Luckily he was finally able to engineer a separation of the friars into Italian and Spanish units. It was accomplished in all charity.

By the time the division was healing, Father John was already an old man. Because of partial paralysis, he could walk only with the aid of a cane. He was already revered by the people whom he served. He could read their hearts in confession and he was considered a miracle-worker. Indeed, his devotees vied to cut off (or even to bite off) bits of his religious habit as “relics”.

Most striking, if not most substantial among the miracles attributed to St. John Joseph was that of his walking stick. The witnesses of this phenomenon were many.

It seems that Friar John Joseph paid a visit one year to the Cathedral of St. Januarius in Naples on the September day when the flacons of blood of this 4th-century martyr-bishop normally liquefy. In the jam-packed church, the friar happened to drop his walking stick. Due to the congestion of the mob of Neapolitans, it would have been quite impossible for him to relocate the cane at that time. Since he could not walk without it, he simply prayed to St. Januarius for help. Immediately, the friar was lifted up in the air by invisible hands and transported marvelously, first to the pulpit, and then outside to the cathedral porch.

The Duke of Lauriano just happened to drive up to the church after the friar had come to rest. Seeing the friar seated there as he dismounted from his carriage, he asked if anything was wrong. “I have lost my steed,” John Joseph replied cheerily. “You will see the walking stick there.” He pointed to the interior of the cathedral. The Duke went in to look for the cane for the old Franciscan. He had not yet reached the altar, however, when the congregation started to cry out, “A miracle!” For, lo and behold, the walking stick had risen from the floor without human touch and begun to float gently towards the front door, traveling about a foot above the heads of the congregation. When it passed through the great doorway, it tapped Fr. John Joseph gently on the chest, and then stood there until the friar had grasped its handle. The old man forthwith hobbled of to his convent, pursued by an amazed and reverent throng.

All of which seems to say to us: God is very thoughtful of each one of us, isn’t He? Especially if we have been thoughtful of Him.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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