Saint John Berchmans, by Father Cyril Charles Martindale

photograph of the Saint John stained glass window in Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA, artist unknown; photographed in the summer of 2003The present writer once had the joy of passing frequently to and fro between two gorgeous altars which confront one another in the vast lonely church of Sant’ Ignazio at Rome. Beneath one lies Aloysius, Marquis of Castiglione and allied to the ruling houses of half Europe; beneath the other, John Berchmans, the son of a Flemish shoe-maker. Drawn from incredible distances, they have found the same destination, and are recognized as true sons of the same Father. The gaunt, stem prince, over whose vocation dukes, cardinals and even the Emperor fought, the youth whose steely will had been tempered by a history of battles, murders, and fierce political intrigues, and had been left uncorroded by a cruel luxury and reckless irresponsible wealth; who had needed, you may say, overwhelming grace from the Eternal God and from Christ Crucified if his brain were to keep its equilibrium firm beneath the combined assaults of all this world’s hostility, lies there fraternally with the simple, laborious, laughing servant boy – ‘Saint Hilary,’ was his nickname. No object lesson more dear or more drastic could be displayed, than those two altars.

I

John’s father was John Charles Berchmans, a shoemaker of Diest, a small town not far from Louvain, towards Maestricht. John Charles was eminently respectable, ex-church-warden, chairman of the Town Council, and twice a justice of the peace. He had aspirations, and married Elizabeth van den Hove, whose ancestry counted a Cardinal, and who had captains and colonels for her relatives. Her sister Catherine married Peregrine Van Hamel, who lived next door, at “The Sign of the Sun;” she herself lived with her husband at “The Sign of the Great and Little Moon,” for which her mother, who owned it, had no intention of remitting or diminishing the rent. On the whole, the folk accustomed to the glitter of armour and the clink of their own gold coins, were not too cordial to the family of furred cloth cloaks and chains merely municipal.

John, the eldest of five children, born March 13th, 1599, was baptized when he was one day old, in the parish church. He was a child of wonderful vitality, and in consequence, of a very happy disposition. He was so wisely and lovingly brought up that he really seems to have developed harmoniously from the outset. He went to a simple school kept by a Wouter van Stiphout, and liked what he learnt there; he came home in the evenings, and if, says one old record, he found the door locked, he did not get angry and kick it, but went into the church hard by and said rosaries, and liked that too. Especially, he liked Mass, and got up an hour early to serve two or even three. He caught up his fellow-students easily, and then out-passed them, thanks largely to his astounding memory. However, his father’s trade languished, his mother’s long-drawn illness was expensive; hence his home conditions grew rougher; and to keep the children out of harm’s way, John Charles sent them to be educated at a distance. John went to a Canon Emmerick, a Premonstratensian of Tongerloo acting as parish priest of Notre Dame, and remained there from about October 1609 to August 1612. Here he found a group of boys who were destined for the priesthood, and like them, he wore the cassock, and felt the same vocation. He continued to study hard and did a good deal of the house work, living happily with the others, except, we are told, when they quarrelled, and then he went off to play marbles by himself. He was happiest of all when praying in lonely corners of the house, and made his first Communion. He displayed an uncanny taste for pious Latin verses which the classical ideals of that time considered good; he carried on an initial success as “boy-priest,” who performed Office in church on the feast of the Innocents, by acting the part of Daniel in a play, “Susanna,” to the approval of Canon Emmerick! At last his father found he could afford no more schooling; John must learn a trade. In utmost distress he implored to be allowed to continue: he would live on bread and water rather than give up: he must be educated. Should you say, John ought to have gone to help his father, I answer this: At least he knew what he wanted and wanted it very much. At the worst, this was better than to have no particular plans because he had no particular ideals; than to foresee some inevitable job or other, done reluctantly, in hopes of having a good time be tween .whiles. Boys can grow up in this nondescript, quite selfish state; and it is really exorbitant to engineer, each generation, a war which shall scourge them out of apathy into heroism! John’s intelligence was alert, and his will tense, from the outset. And then reflect that he wanted Education! Why, you are glad today when you find even parents who don’t shirk it for their sons! John’s father, inclined for the moment to extract quick returns from work forced upon (and thereby stunting) his boy, was not obstinate, but allowed two of his aunts, beguines at Diest, to put him with a priest called Timmermans, who saw to his education for perhaps a month or two. Then, probably from October, 1612, or at the latest January, 1613, he went to the house of a Canon Froymont at Mechlin, and stayed there till September 24th, 1616.

Van Stiphout was heartbroken at John’s departure; he said life became bitter to him from that time on; and even Timmermans was loth to let him go, so swiftly and fully did he win affection.

Froymont saw that he attended the classes of a college hard by, while within doors John was frankly a serving boy, cleaning yards, and mended his own clothes to spare the maids. But soon enough he was entrusted with the care of three small boys called Van Roon who lodged there; they were difficult children, but ended by adoring John. Others, too, learned to admire him. The Mechlin Canons, like Job’s sons, gave dinner parties in rotation: John was always asked to serve, so cheerfully, so gracefully did he do so. Yet he would not mix with the rough talk and amusements of servants’ halls or stable. While the Canons sat over their dessert, he eclipsed himself, and said rosary after rosary in the calm Cathedral. It was the sight of the serving boy (he owned), and not the Canons, which attracted into the Catholic faith a young Calvinist who came to stay there.

A tiny episode reveals John’s mind just then. The Canon had a dog which he used when shooting duck on the Dyle. John used to train him to swim and to retrieve. The scene was a pleasant one and cheerful; but John, watching the untiringly obedient dog, was thinking how his soul should be as attentive, as responsive, to the least hint from God.

In 1615 the Society of Jesus was asked by the Mechlin Magistrates to open a college there. In October of that year, John somehow succeeded, in face of opposition (I think, from the Archbishop), in entering it. He was put straight into the top class, of which he came out first. Soon enough he began to believe that he was called to enter the Society. However he felt a distinct dislike for the idea – he merely states this fact, and gives no explanation. He reflected, took advice, and divided his entire pocket-money, twenty-five florins, into three parts, one of which he gave to the poor; with the rest he had Masses said at Montaigu, a shrine to which he loved to make pilgrimage, and at Saint Peter’s Church in Louvain, now, alas, destroyed. He increased his Communions and went weekly, and then twice weekly. At last he wrote to his parents that for four months he had been obsessed – at study, during games, and on walks – with the conviction that he must be a Jesuit.

The idea came to his parents as a shock – even as a secular, their eldest son might have made a home for them. The father hastened to Mechlin, and interviewed John’s confessor, Father de Greeff. He could not help: he had not suggested the idea; his father too had been a shoe-maker, and himself not an eldest, but an only son. He could but give the advice he once had decided to take, a decision no one now regretted. An appeal was made to the Capuchins of Mechlin. They too, urged; useless: one, even, a relative of the Berchmans, came back again and again to the charge, till John, with sudden intractability – almost a flash of temper – showed him the door. Opposition ceased, and on September 24th, John entered the Mechlin novitiate. He said again and again that he would strip to the shirt and go naked, rather than not go at all.

So ended John’s boyhood – healthy, happy, and the healthier and happier because perfectly pure – he attached no meaning to the very name of vice. It is an almost terrible lesson to our obstinate belief that innocence is but negative; piety, no preparation for life’s rough-and-tumble; docility, lack of spirit; studious industry, the habit of a book-worm. John, who could quite well walk fifteen miles fasting, was robust; to the end of his life he will want to put his spiritual assets at the service of barrack and battle-field; everyone liked his laugh; when he resisted requests, tears and prayers, even those of his parents, he did so in obedience to higher orders, and was not obstinate, though inflexible. He entered the novitiate radiantly happy because fully self-possessed; and his whole possession, that self, he handed on, unhesitating, to the supreme claimant, God.

II

The foundation of Novitiates had not, in Saint John Berchmans’ day, come to be taken almost for granted, as it has in ours. In the Society they had indeed existed for some time, and their object is clear enough. A number of young men, animated by a common ideal, and filled with enthusiasm, want to embark on a career of great difficulty, which will continually bring them into conflict not only with public opinion (or expose them to flattery, which is worse), but with instinct, especially in the long run; for perseverance is a more searching trial than a crisis. The Jesuit ideal was especially difficult to realize. It contained the maximum of activity with the most absolute reliance on the supernatural grace of God; the most personal efforts, with total unselfishness; a continual mixing with the “world,” with a complete interior independence; spiritual inflexibility, and adaptability in exterior address. It will be seen at once how, in the novitiate, foundations of the most solid kind have to be laid, principles of an enduring sort to be established, an all-pervasive ideal to be lit up, and a true perspective offered and maintained.

An account of a novitiate would therefore be, practically, an account of how novices’ minds are trained, and incidents and anecdotes can scarcely, therefore, be looked for, and John’s two years at Mechlin cannot be made exciting.

He arrived at the novitiate “fervent” – that is, not driven there, nor drifting there, but full of energy of body and of will, and convinced that it would train him to get what he wanted. Therefore he felt free the moment he entered upon a life which was constructed in every detail to enable him to develop as he wished; he gladly willed what he was ordered; he re-enacted within himself the exterior command, and spontaneously governed himself according to the same spirit. You see at once (and I shall not repeat this) that throughout a life of rule – of rule re-duplicated, re-inforced, and anticipated by personal choice, a life of minutiae which would have been crippling, shrivelling, had they been forced on him, or had they been the product of timorous scruple, or treated as ends in themselves – he was all the while free to expand and advance. He was no Gulliver, tied down by a thousand Lilliputian threads, but was determined that every tiny cell in his organism, so to say, should be vibrantly responsive to the pervasive spiritual vitality. There should be nothing dead or undifferentiated in him.

Hence his cheerfulness. Much that was hard to others was easy to him: when a thing was hard he attacked it all the more gladly as being the more obviously productive and worth while. Once only he was seen, for a moment, saddened – when he was forbidden to make a retreat before his vows. This was, then, no mere exasperating ebullience of high spirits, as in one who comes whistling in to breakfast; and you must imagine no “religionised” Mark Tapley, who keeps reminding a fatigued audience of his “jolliness”; but John’s constant smile, his “most cordial laugh,” were the spontaneous expression of the true happiness which results from perfect intimate well-being, and were infectious.

Infectious, most decidedly; and if there is one point which astonishes us, it is that the records keep insisting on his skill in quieting quarrels. You don’t expect novices to quarrel, but these did, and sometimes almost fought. They shouldn’t have; but they were high spirited young men, and a flash of temper is better than some sorts of politeness; and annoyances may fester, in silence, into dislike, and charity go sour. Anyhow, John’s laugh, and – more effectual still – his sudden gravities were all-healing.

With this went his power of talking about spiritual things not only without offending people, but attractively. It is particularly recorded that he could guide the conversation without their noticing it. He was doubly tactful, both for their sake and his own. He never thrust such subjects on to groups that were unsuitable: large groups were unsuitable, and there his talk was general. He also noticed that to talk of his own “spiritual experiences” was hurtful; their force evaporated. See then in him neither intrusive, “improving” manners, nor personal ostentation, nor that kind of pious gush which nauseates. It remains that while Englishmen are schooled to a reticence which often hides their feelings too completely, even from themselves, or even dries them up interiorly, men ought to be able, among like-minded men, to talk freely. John did so talk of what he loved, and knew his fellows loved, or at least sought to love.

But neither an energetic nor a friendly temperament would have helped John much without an inmost “spirit of religion.” I mean that, just as some men come to be governed in all parts of their life by the idea of money-making, so from the outset John was possessed by a very simple belief in God, and by the desire to serve Him lovingly with all his might. Now, such an inmost spirit will work itself out not just anyhow, but through all the machinery of temperament, yet further elaborated by education, circumstances and so on. The dominant idea will not create a number of quite new notions, nor suggest an eccentric behaviour, save when environment or public opinion is hopelessly at variance with it. Thus in Saint Aloysiiis and Saint Stanislaus, the idea clashed violently with what their family and surroundings kept suggesting; so it worked its way out catastrophically, as when, for instance, they ran away, or in Aloysius’s violent penances, or Stanislaus’s brainfever. Besides, they were very unusual boys – Aloysius a passionate Southerner, and Stanislaus a Pole – and neither, even so, was average. But John, temperamentally, was perfectly average, and his mental stock-in-trade quite in harmony with his pleasant, laborious, pious Flemish world; so his spirit of religion had but to improve what he would normally think and do – improve it, no doubt, out of recognition, if you had been able to see it from within; but outwardly it worked itself out just in great piety.

We distrust the word “pious,” because we fear it means prudish, or prim; dull, anyway; “pi” is the schoolboy word for boys who are easily shocked, or difficult (so correct are they) to get on with. It is true that John, like the Shepherdess, was “so circumspect and right ” because he had his “thoughts to keep “; but she was a “Lady of delight,” and equally so in the dark valleys or up on the snows; and John, who was in a thousands ways busying himself with holy little thoughts about the saints, and his stainless Mother, and his intimate Companion and incomparable Captain, Jesus Christ, was recognized as “delightful” too, and happy and happy-making in his piety. No: we are apt to be “down on” piety not least, I think, because when we are treating ourselves to our “good times,” we are not so very pious: we are giving ourselves rope, and if we don’t exactly do things we are only too anxious to forget, we don’t do much that we are keen to remember. John was the same good stuff all the way through and all the time – that is why he was so respected; and simple, frank, unselfish and high-spirited always, and that is why he was so much liked.

I have thought it better to indicate, thus generally, what I feel to have been his character at this time, than to pile up tiring instances of pious actions, edifying remarks, and so forth. Something of that sort could have been said of all his fellow-novices; and outside its due atmosphere would seem trivial, and in a sense was so. Of the forty-nine documents dealing with this part of his life, collected by Father Bauters (John’s second novice-master) none supplies much “colour” save that of the delightful Brother Gilles, and this throws as much light on his native Franciscan self as upon John.

John, when out walking with this Brother, let him do the talking – “comme il scavoit que naturellement l’on parle plus volontiers que d’escouter, il scavoit si dextrement faire que c’estoit tousjours moi qui parlois, tellement que j’admirois beaucoup sa dexterite et vertu.” When he did talk, it was in a manner “si agreable, doulce, joyeulxse, donnant contentement a tous (qu’) il me semble qu’un ange n’ eust pas mieulx faict . . . Il me veult souvenir lui avoir une fois donne occasion de se mescontenter, mais au contraire il en sousrioit; qui me fit lors croire que c’estoit un parfaict saint.”

It was this Brother who, sitting next to John at dinner, observed that he went on eating longer than anyone else did. Brother Gilles, having hitherto believed that John “estoit entierement adonne a la mortification,” says that “j’en estois esbahi,” and asked the reason. John said he had started by eating too little: the Provincial had ordered him to eat “tout ce qu’on lui bailleriot”: so he ate quietly till the end of his meal, and then, if he had not finished, the “second obedience” – the signal for grace – dispensed him from the first. He too tells how John, when he went to catechize children (they used to mob him), would come out of the late Mass, which was then said, before it was finished, because his predecessors had done so: if he stayed, as he would have liked to do, the peasants might think the other novices did not hear Mass properly, and be scandalized.

During his novitiate, on December ist, 1616, John’s mother had died, and on April ist, 1618, his father was ordained priest; but he was heart-broken; and when John (who took his vows, September 25th, 1618) went to Antwerp to do his philosophy and was then told he was to study it at Rome, he wrote to Diest to ask his father to visit him at Mechlin to say good-bye. It was a shock to learn that his father had died some days before; a letter survives in which John’s indignation that no one of his relatives had written to tell him is discernible. However, this letter, like another to Canon Froymont, is affectionate, and he meant what he said – that now, with a doubled meaning, he could speak of his Father who was in heaven.

III

John left Antwerp on October 24th, 1618, for Rome. His halts lasted but a day, yet a year afterwards, the memories his passage had left were fresh and fragrant. After a few days at the Gesu, where John seemed Gonzaga back again, he went to the Roman College and should have been lost in its cosmopolitan crowd. Men from a dozen different nations studied there; but there too a radiance haloed him. He did philosophy, simple mathematics, and Greek – his Grammar is at Stonyhurst. He had learnt French at Mechlin: in Rome he acquired Italian, and meant to ask for a year at the German and English colleges, feeling himself a new man with every language learnt, and of new usefulness for the missions for which he yearned – China was his favourite. He had more need now of thinking than of memory, and they found his head clear, his reasoning firm, his argumentation brisk. Yet he was not brilliant: after explanations asked for, he often just smiled, said he did not understand, and withdrew. He made up by method – preparation, attention, and repetition, and was relentless in taking notes – you may say he annotated his whole existence on tiny scraps of paper; yet at times he had to pinch himself to keep awake. He definitely inspired himself by the knowledge that heretics were working hard; he must not be behind-hand; no selfish intellectualism was his, but an apostle’s ardour. Nor in this, self-will: he was only too glad to be trained , and sought with sincerity, yet freedom, for advice.

A certain gravity has settled on the lad who was “always smiling”; yet not, for that, anxiety or aloofness. He is still a centre for friends; especially the lay-brothers love the “blessed little John,” and the sick, whom he has standing leave to visit when the siesta-hour leaves them lonely; he tells them stories, a different one to each. At everybody’s service, they call him the “refuge” of the Minister, whose business was, half the time, to see to odds and ends; on John they relied to show people round Rome, or to serve late or protracted Masses: he felt a little worried at the havoc wrought on his studies, but conquered this.

Gravity too attends his widened outlook. Rome mirrors the Church, and he understood more fully the scope of the Society. Its name recurs oftener under his pen, and he puts more meaning into the notion of the ” complete Jesuit.” But his method is unchanged: an exact obedience to the rule, inspired by an ideal ever more richly apprehended. He studied the rules, commented on them, kept the book open before him, slept with it under his pillow. He was still free in all this – he slept the instant he lay down, and seldom woke or dreamed; still, the minute observances, in which his soul moved easily but which made his Superiors nervous, ground down his physique and even his psychic energies; he began to grow thin, and had headaches. Yet, as I said, he worked from within outwards: the great thoughts of God, souls, and their service, of the Society of Jesus and all that that Name meant, issued into those observances; he never made idols of them, and they never annoyed his neighbours, but even helped them towards a like ideal and habit.

“I will be quite sincere, quite open, like perfectly clear water, with my Superiors,” he wrote; and his soul, even when destitute of “consolation,” never grew turbid or confused. “In desolations,” he wrote, “I have felt a great quiet of soul.” In part this was due to his obedience, as I said, but also to his war on self-love – he has left a plan for extirpating it so searching as to remind one of Saint John of the Cross, – and to his unruffled spirit of faith and of trust. He positively lived on Holy Communion, and walked with simplicity under the mothering care of Mary.

Lynx-eyed novices had failed to find a fault in him: the grave scrutiny, now, of theologians permitted them to say that what he did was perfect, and done from a perfect motive. But you cannot be perfect with impunity.

* * *

In March, 1621, John passed his philosophy examinations, and was at once told to prepare a public “Act” in which he should defend his theses against all comers. Summer came: the heat exhausted him; he felt a sort of interior collapse; earth seemed futile to him; in July he several times said he wished to die. “Are you not afraid?” “I should like a short retreat first; but even without it, I would die willingly.” He drew, for the month of August, the motto “Watch and pray, for you know not the time.” He ran to tell Superior and friends that God was calling him. On the 5th he had a slight attack of dysentery, but paid no attention; next day, he was sent to a philosophic tourney at the Greek College, spoke for an hour, and returned with a temperature. On the 7th, the Rector met him in a corridor, saw he looked ill, and sent him to the infirmarian, who put him at once to bed. The whole college took fright; the tiniest details of his illness were recorded: he might have been the Pope! The fever rose, but he preserved his bright smile, his exquisite consideration for his visitors, and his simplicity. He asked for Communion on Saint Laurences’ day, and was told it was brought to the sick on Sundays only, but that an exception would surely be made. He refused. His nights were bad; he weakened notably; restoratives had to be applied every four hours. Still, he talked happily of heaven; and when the Rector asked him whether, should God call him, he would have any regrets, he said no, save that relations between Rome and Belgium might grow strained since, the companion with whom he came had already died; for himself he would prefer to go. Towards midnight of the ioth the infimarian told him he would do well to receive Communion next day. “As Viaticum?” “Yes.” John, exultant, threw his arms round the Brother’s neck, who burst into tears. Full of joy, John kept offering himself to our Lord, and made the Brother write a little will, in which all he could bequeath were thanks and his farewells. He had himself washed in preparation for the Unctions, and at three asked for the Rector, and begged to make a general confession. This was refused, and he confessed as usual. Just after four, Cornelius a Lapide visited him. “There is nothing that troubles you?” “Absolutely nothing.”

At half-past four Viaticum was brought him. John suddenly knelt upright, and then, supported by two of the assistants, he cried:

“I declare that here is present the Son of God Almighty and of the Blessed Virgin Mary; I declare that I wish to live and die a true child of my holy mother the Catholic Apostolic Roman Church; I declare that I wish to live and die a true child of the Blessed Virgin Mary; I declare that I wish to live and die a true son of the Society.”

John lay back, made his thanksgiving, and begged for Extreme Unction. He was told to wait a little. After a while he was asked when he would like it. “At once,” he said, “at once.” He answered all the prayers, asked pardon for all his faults, and then whispered to the Rector that, should he think fit, he might tell the others that his greatest consolation, at that hour, was that since he had entered he had never deliberately committed a venial sin nor deliberately broken a rule. This, by itself, proved he knew he was dying. Father Gepari went to say Mass. “Father Rector is wrestling for me like Jacob,” John said to Father Piccolomini; and a little later: “Father Rector is fighting for me; but he wont win.” Cepari returned, and said smiling that he had been complaining to our Lord that John must go so soon. John too smiled, but said nothing. During the day a compatriot, Gaudt, bathed his wrists with wine. “My illness would be expensive if it lasted,” said John. “This wine,” answered Gaudt, “is cheap in Italy.” “Then,” he rejoined demurely, “you might pour it out rather faster.” The General himself came to see him: “So you wanted to run away without telling us a word about it?” he said, smiling. But when the moment came to give John his blessing, he could hardly speak for tears. Van Doorne, another compatriot, brought him some pebbles collected at the shrine of Our Lady of Foy, in Belgium, and asked John to vow a pilgrimage thither, should he recover. John could not accept; but he saw he had hurt Van Doorne, and later asked Gaudt for the pebbles, took them, and made a hesitating promise, and then got rid of them as though they burned him. During the night of the 12th, they read Saint Aloysius’s life to him, and he imitated its details in his prayers. He clasped his crucifix, his rosary and rule book; “These are my three treasures: with these I will gladly die,” He asked to have psalms read to him, and sentences he had gummed into a little book. So the night passed.

Very early on Thursday, the Rector came, and told him to ask for his cure if it was God’s will. John obeyed. “In my Office,” said Father Cepari, “I met these words – they might have been written for you – ‘My child, do not fear; for I am with thee, saith the Lord. Shouldst thou go through fire, the flame shall not hurt thee, and the smell of the fire shall not be upon thee. I will deliver thee from the hands of the evil ones, and from the hand of the strong.’ I hope this will be true for you.” “I hope so too,” he answered, “but through the merits of the Blessed Virgin.” Her name was constantly on his lips, “Do not abandon me, Mary, do not deceive me; I am your son, you know I swore it.” Paul Oliva, some day to be General, urged him not to doubt her. “I do not doubt, Oliva,” he protested vigorously: “No, no! I do not doubt.”

The day passed exhaustingly, filling the room with visitors from all Rome. Though checked, they kept returning, and none failed to notice that the gentle, respectful boy had grown, in those austere hours, into a man, and addressed them with authority. One, a Pole, Nicholas Radkai, he kept till the others had gone. An affection of great intimacy had united them, and now John kissed him, and said: “My dear Nicholas, this is my last good-bye: I shall not speak to you again in this world. You know I have always loved you here: I shall love you in heaven.” The Pole, whom life still tortured, asked John to obtain him the grace of chastity from God, and the dying Saint promised to do this. “Are you really dying?” “Yes: I shall certainly die to-morrow.” “Shall I be there?” “Try to be.” Already he had insisted to Van Aelst and Van Doorne, who were much with him, that he would die next day, when the bell rang for school, or later.

Father Cepari had warned him against temptations against faith or of vain-glory. Against them John was armed. But as darkness fell, he said to Gaudt: “Do not leave me; tonight the whole thing must be settled.” And to others he had said: “Tonight I shall have to fight.” No one thought he could live till day; but he insisted that he would, and added that he had asked of God that he might die if not on some battlefield, at least conscious, and able to speak. About ten he asked that the Recommendation of the Soul might be said; then he tried to sleep, but could not. Suddenly, he began to sing, very loud, the Ave mar is stella: they tried to quiet him, and he grew faint. “What do you think?” he asked. “We are near the end.” “We are going!” he cried, “we are going.” They answered pious words: “You must love Christ, and Mary, whom you loved on earth and whom you will love in death.” “Whom I have tried to love in life,” he corrected, ” and who will love me in death.” “If you had a thousand hearts, you would love Mary with them all?” “I would love her with them all.” And he grew faint again.

Gaudt went out for a moment, but returned at a cry. John, his face distorted, was struggling and tossing his arms. “No, I will not do it! I offend Thee, Lord? Mary, never will I offend your Son! Back! I will not do it! I would rather die a thousand times, ten thousand times, a million times. Back, Satan! I do not fear you.”

He asked for a rule-book, asked for another with the special rules for students, and seized his rosary. Everything glittered to his eyes; he turned delirium into ecstasy, recited his Vows (omitting from the formula the now well-nigh useless words, that he would “live in the Society for ever”), and answered the invocations of the Litany, holding his cross up and turning it this way and that, as when preaching in the streets. At two, the Rector came and helped him to pray – “I believe, I hope, I grieve; my heart is ready.” John then lost the power of speech, drew his knees up, and leaned his rosary-twined crucifix and his book against them. At five, he muttered: “I would like to speak.” Father Piccolomini made him struggle to say “Jesus,” and his speech returned. Towards six, Father Cepari went to say Mass. Hardly had he left when John screamed and threw himself about. “Let us come home! I did not do it willingly! Let us go home.”

“John,” said Piccolomini, “listen to me. Say only what I say, ‘Lord, I believe. Lord, I hope. Lord, I love.'” John eagerly repeated this. “John,” continued the priest, “hitherto you have always obeyed me. Obey me now Attend to what I say; say that, and nothing else.” Serenity returned.

At half-past six he called for the Rector. He came straight from the altar. John asked for the Litany of his Monthly Patrons to be recited; he repeated, sometimes with an effort, the name of each. He then asked for the Litany of Our Lady; he answered each ora, and moved his head in homage to the titles Sancta Virgo virginum, and Mater castissima.

Then he ceased to answer; fixed his eyes on the rule-book, the rosary and the cross, saying Jesus , Mary; he sighed six or seven times and died quietly at about eight, on Friday, 13th August, 1621.