Saint of the Day – 13 February – Blessed Jordan of Saxony O.P. (1190-1237) Religious Priest, Preacher, the Second Master-General of the Domican Order, after St Dominic himself. He was born in 1190 at Padberg Castle, diocese of Paderborn, Westphalia, old Saxony (in modern Germany), though it is rumoured to have been born in Palestine while his parents were on a pilgrimage, and named after the River Jordan but this is apparently aprochryphal. He died by drowning in 1237 in a shipwreck off the coast of Syria while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is buried in Acre. Patronages – against drowning, of the Dominican Order, Vocations to the Dominicans. Attributes – Dominican writing, a pen, a lily.
Mothers hid their sons when Master Jordan came to town…
These ten short words sum up in a humorous kind of way, the outstanding legacy of the successor of St Dominic. It not only gives the impression that this new group of mendicant preachers had a clearly defined and essential role to play, challenging the infectious heresies so prevalent at the time (as was confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1216 when he formally recognised the Order) but also that people were powerless to resist when confronted with it. Of Blessed Jordan we are told that that during his tenure as Master General, between 1222 and 1237, over 1000 novices joined the Dominicans, new convents were established and new provinces formed. Under his rule the Order continued to win many of the best men available, particularly in the Universities where many a Professor was seduced. With such a charming figure sweeping through the neighbourhood is it any wonder that mothers tried to keep their sons out of reach?
A German of noble descent born in 1190, he had been in the Order a mere two years before his election as Master General in 1222. By today’s standards, his rapid accession may appear hasty, a point he himself was quick to highlight when he became the first Provincial of Lombardy in 1221. In the Libellus he writes:
‘In 1221, at the General Chapter in Bologna, they saw fit to make me the first Provincial of Lombardy, although I had only been in the Order one year and had not struck root as deeply as I ought to have done. I was to be placed over others as their superior, before I had learned to govern my own imperfection. I was not present at this Chapter myself.’
Despite his anxiety, he must have made quite an impression on his brothers during his short tenure in the Order. We are told about the type of person he was by those who knew. It is obvious that he possessed all those qualities the ideal leader should have. Inspired by his brother and friend St Dominic, he was abounding in faith, kind and compassionate, humble, authoritative and yet at the same time understanding. He had the ability to attract people by his sincerity. His style of life complemented his style of words; something that was evidently lacking at the time among the Clergy and Religious. This was vital at a time when ‘reform’ was the buzzword of the day.
His great love for the poor was well known. There is a story said of him that:
‘Meeting a vagabond upon the road who feigned sickness and poverty, he gave him one of his tunics, which the fellow at once carried straight to a tavern for drink. The brethren, seeing this done, taunted him with his simplicity: ‘There now, Master, see how wisely you have bestowed your tunic.’ ‘I did so,’ said he, ‘because I believed him to be in want through sickness and poverty and it seemed at the moment to be a charity to help him; still, I reckon it better to have parted with my tunic than with charity.’
Our Blessed Jordan may well be still speaking to us today! Not all those people who present themselves as being needy these days may be genuine. However, when we stop caring, we stop striving to be like Jesus. Let us never restrain God’s work in our hearts but allow ourselves to be moved by compassion . Perhaps it was this genuineness that caused Mothers in the district to be wary of his arrival.
Jordan died in a shipwreck on his return from Palestine, where he had visited the local convents of the Order; the shipwreck occurred off the coast of Syria in 1237. It is perhaps fitting that this great servant of the Order of Preachers, who was kept at arm’s length by the Mothers who feared his magnetic appeal on their sons, should nestle snuggly within the loving embrace of the Mother of God as famously depicted in that famous vision of St Dominic.