Saints of the Day – John Berchmans

photograph of the Saint John stained glass window in Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA, artist unknown; photographed in the summer of 2003Article

(also known as Jan Berchmans)

Born in Diest, Brabant, Flanders (Belgium), on March 13, 1599; died at Rome August 13, 1621; canonized 1888; feast day formerly on August 13.

Eldest son of a master-shoemaker, John knew early that he wanted to be a priest. His piety attracted attention even in his youth. When he was 11, his parish priest permitted him to study in the little seminary run out of the rectory. At the age of 13, he became a servant in the household of one of the cathedral canons at Malines, John Froymont, in order to pay for his education. In 1615, the Jesuits opened a college at Malines (Mechlin) and the following year John became a Jesuit novice there. After his mother’s death, his father and two brothers followed suit and entered religious life.

The year his father was ordained (1618) and died six months later, John was sent to Rome for his novitiate. He was so poor and humble that he walked from Antwerp to Rome. In the seminary he was known for his diligence and piety, impressing all with his holiness and stress on perfection in little things. His kindly and cheerful nature made him popular (contemporary accounts of his attractive nature survive). In these respects he reminds us of the “little way” of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. There was nothing visibly extraordinary about him; he was one of those saints who do the ordinary things of everyday life in an uncommon manner, out of their overflowing love of God.

There are some reports that he found the regimented life of a Jesuit scholar nearly intolerable. Yet he continued in humble and cheerful obedience to his superiors and to God.

Although he longed to work in the mission fields of China, he did not live long enough to permit it. After completing his coursework, he was asked to defend the “entire field of philosophy” in a public disputation in July, just after his exit examinations. The following month he was asked to represent the Roman College in a debate with the Greek College. Although he distinguished himself in this disputation, he had studied so assiduously that he caught a cold in mid-summer, became very ill with dysentary and a fever, and died a week later. He was buried in the church of Saint Ignatius at Rome, but his heart was later translated to the Jesuit church at Louvain.

So many miracles were attributed to him after his death at the age of 22, that his cultus soon spread to his native Belgium, where 24,000 copies of his portrait were published within a few years of his death (Attwater, Attwater 2, Benedictines, Brenan, Coulson, Delaney, Delehaye, Farmer, Schamoni).

Saint John is represented as a young Jesuit kneeling in a ray of light, and pointing to a skull, with a log of wood, crucifix, book and rosary near him. He is the patron of altar boys (Roeder). The convent of Via di Tor dei Specchi (founded by Saint Frances of Rome) has two pictures of the saint, although his death mask has been lost. One was painted directly from the corpse; the other is a sweetened copy of the death portrait. The original has never been published (Schamoni).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 August 2020. Web. 17 June 2021. <>