Saint of the Day – 18 September – St Joseph of Cupertino OFM Conv. (1603-1663) – Religious Priest and Friar of the First Order of St Francis Mystic, Confessor, Miracle Worker (born Giuseppe Maria Desa on 17 June 1603 at Cupertino, Diocese of Nardo, near Brindisi in the Kingdom of Naples, Italy as Joseph Desa – 18 September 1663 at Ossimo, Italy of a rapidly developed but severe fever). He is buried in the Chapel of the Conception, Ossimo. St Joseph was Beatified on 24 February 1753 by Pope Benedict XIV and Canonised on 16 July 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. Patronages – Cities of Osimo and Cupertino, Italy, aviation, astronauts, mental handicaps, examinations, students, air crews, Air Forces, air travellers, aircraft pilots, paratroopers.
If ever a tiny child began life with nothing in his favour it was Joseph of Cupertino; he had only one hopeful and saving quality—that he knew it. Other boys of his own age were clever, he was easily the dullest of them all. Others were winning and attractive, nobody ever wanted him. While they had pleasant things said and given to them, Joseph always regarded himself down an ass and never looked for any special treatment. He went to school with the rest of the children in the village but he did not succeed in anything. He was absent-minded, he was awkward, he was nervous; a sudden noise, such as the ringing of a church-bell, would make him drop his schoolbooks on the floor. He would sit with his companions after school hours and try to talk like them but every time his conversation would break down; he could not tell a story to the end, no matter how he tried. His very sentences would stop in the middle because he could not find the right words. Altogether, even for those who pitied him, and wished to be kind to him, Joseph was something of a trial.
BUT he expressed an early interest in religious devotion, first setting up an altar in his family’s home where he prayed constantly. In school, he got the nickname “Open Mouth” (Gaper) due to his jaw always hanging open in class while his eyes looked to the heavens. At a young age, he began wearing a rough hair-shirt and fasting. The few things he consumed he covered with a bitter powder to make them unpalatable.
At 17, he tried to join the Friars Minor of the Conventuals but his two Uncles who were members rejected him due to his ignorance and lack of an education. Joseph tried again with the Capuchin Order and was admitted in 1620 but his frequent ecstatic states and absentmindedness made it impossible for him to perform even the simplest odd jobs and he was dismissed after eight months. He then joined the Order of Conventuals at Grottella, where he was given the task of caring for a mule. His virtues were such that he became a cleric at 22, a Priest at 25 in 1628. Joseph still had little education, could barely read or write but received such a gift of spiritual knowledge and discernment that he could solve intricate questions.
Soon after he was sent to another monastery, he is said to have performed his first remarkable act. While praying in the Church, he suddenly levitated into the centre of the Altar among the candles and flowers. He levitated again in Rome in the presence of Pope Urban VIII. From there, his feats grew more numerous and impressive – he rose 14 metres in the air at a Basilica in Rome and made many more dramatic flights onto candlelit Altars. A few times, it’s said, he took others with him, including a Priest whom he grasped by the hand at a festival, whirling around in a dance until they were both borne aloft. Another time he cured a nobleman of lunacy by transporting him into the air for 15 minutes. Once, he even threw a lamb into the sky and then flew after it, spending two hours talking to the animal in the air. His life became a series of visions and ecstasies, which could be triggered any time or place by the sound of a Church bell, Church music, the mention of the name of God or of the Blessed Virgin or of a Saint, any event in the life of Christ, the Sacred Passion, a holy picture, the thought of the glory in heaven, etc. Yelling, beating, pinching, burning, piercing with needles – none of this would bring him from his trances but he would return to the world on hearing the voice of his superior in the order. When levitating and floating (which led to his patronage of people involved in air travel) he could hear heavenly music.
In addition to his levitations, which even in the 17th century, there was interest in the unusual, and Joseph’s ecstasies in public caused both admiration and disturbance in the community. For 35 years he was not allowed to attend choir, go to the common refectory, walk in procession, or say Mass in church. To prevent making a spectacle, he was ordered to remain in his room with a private Chapel. He was brought before the Inquisition, and sent from one Capuchin or Franciscan house to another. But Joseph retained his joyous spirit, submitting to Divine Providence, keeping seven Lents of 40 days each year, never letting his faith be shaken. Many other miracles are attributed to Joseph, including reading minds, prophecy, curing the sick, multiplying food, finding lost possessions and bilocation (being in two places at once). He had many intense battles with the devil, who appeared sporting two-foot-long horns. Joseph was once found apparently dead on the floor of his dormitory, flies covering his eyes and mouth. but he awoke and was absolutely fine. When he arrived in Osimo, where he would spend the last years of his life, he is said to have seen angels and flown 23 metres into the air.
Joseph died in 1663 after an illness and was Canonised in 1767. The Church of San Francesco in Osimo was renamed the Basilica of St Joseph of Cupertino (Basilica di San Giuseppe da Copertino) in his honour. The Basilica has a painting of Joseph levitating above the Altar and in the crypt his preserved body is encased in a glass coffin, which is levitating now thanks to the help of two Angel statues. On 18 September of each year, his coffin is carried in a procession around Osimo.
When, in 1657, Joseph had been taken to his last place of confinement, he had said he would never leave it. He added one thing more for a sign. He told his companions that the first day on which he failed to receive communion would be the day on which he would die. And so it came about. On August 10, 1663, he was seized with an intermittent fever. So long as it was only intermittent he continued to rise every morning to say mass. The last day was the feast of the Assumption; on that day, says the Act of his canonisation, he had ecstasies and experiences surpassing anything he had ever had before. Then he was compelled to take to his bed; but still he persisted in hearing mass when he could and never missed communion. He became worse, and extreme unction was administered. When he had received it, he had one request to make, it was that his body should be buried in some out-of-the-way corner and that it should be forgotten where it was laid. He fell into his agony. There came constantly to his lips the words of St Paul: “Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo.” (I desire to depart and be with Christ). Someone at the bedside spoke to him of the love of God; he cried out: “Say that again, say that again!” He pronounced the Holy Name of Jesus. He added: “Praised be God! Blessed be God! May the holy will of God be done!” The old laughter seemed to come back to his face; those around could scarcely resist the contagion. And so he died. It was 18 September 1663. He was just sixty years of age.