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Catholic Heroes… St. John Cantius

December 13, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In the heart of Chicago, about three miles from Lake Michigan, sits a Roman Catholic church, a stunning example of baroque architecture erected in the late 19th century by Polish immigrants. Widely known for its reverent liturgies and faithfulness to the teachings of the Catholic Church, it attracts visitors from all over the country.
In April 2016, this glorious church — St. John Cantius — was voted “the most beautiful church in America.” It is filled with precious, stunning sacred art; it is the home of excellent liturgical music; and is also the home of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.
The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius is a new order founded in 1998 dedicated to the restoration of the sacred.
Who is this John Cantius after whom a church and a religious order have been named?
John of Kanty or St. John Cantius was born in 1390 in Kety, a small town just outside Oswiecim, Poland — about 50 miles west of Krakow. Stanislaw, his father, and Anna Kanty, his mother, were both devout Catholics. The future Pope St. John Paul II was born just 13 miles from Kety.
John received his early education in Oswiecim after which his parents sent him to the Academy of Krakow. The youth excelled in both intellect and piety, deeply impressing both his instructors and his peers. He was a friendly young man, pleasant and affable — not easily provoked. His modesty, virtue, and wisdom drew many to this great future saint.
At Krakow, he completed both his bachelor’s degree and his licentiate in philosophy. While he immediately began teaching philosophy classes at the academy, he continued his studies and preparations for the priesthood.
After his Ordination, John went to Miechow, Poland, about 100 miles north of Krakow. Here he became acquainted with the spirituality of St. Augustine and followed him as closely as he could. Serving as a parish priest, he grew both spiritually and intellectually. He also became rector at the school of the Canons Regular of the Most Holy Sepulcher.
A few years later a vacancy opened up, enabling John to return as a professor of Sacred Scripture at the Krakow Academy, now known as the Jagiellonian University. This college later became the famous and highly respected Jagiellonian University where Copernicus would study 80 years later.
John Cantius stayed at this institution until his death. While there he spent the first 13 years studying and finally completing his doctorate in theology. When his mentor, Benedykt Hesse, died, John became director of the theology department at the university. He held this post until his retirement.
Fr. Cantius had many interests in addition to Catholic doctrine and philosophy. His love of physics led him to further develop Fr. Jean Buridan’s (1295-1363) theory of impetus. It is worth emphasizing that both Buridan and Cantius were Catholic priests, showing that the Catholic Church was not opposed to scientific endeavors.
For the many years that Fr. John resided at the Jagiellonian University, he balanced his intellectual pursuits in science and theology with active works of mercy. He denied himself even the smallest comfort — if not absolutely needed — in order to have more to give to the poor. He ate the minimum required to subsist and never ate any meat; he slept on the floor rather than on a cot. He not only gave alms to the poor, but was also especially kind to students living in poverty.
His dedication to spiritual works of mercy and his humility show through these words that he took as his motto: “Beware disturbing: it’s not sweetly pleasing/ Beware speaking ill: for taking back words is burdensome.” Some hagiographers say that he worked several miracles during his lifetime.
John Cantius also spent many hours — before the time of the printing press — hand writing copies of Sacred Scripture and the manuscripts of theological tracts and scholarly works. In all, he copied over 18,000 pages. Only 26 volumes have survived.
What passion for the word of God and what zeal to pass it on to the other students so that they too could study such treasuries of wisdom!
Even in retirement Fr. Cantius remained at the university. On Christmas Eve 1473, he passed away at the age of 83. His remains were laid to rest in St. Anne, the Collegiate Church. From the time of his death until now, his tomb has been a popular place for pilgrims seeking special favors.
During his lifetime, John Cantius made five pilgrimages. One he made to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, hoping that the he would become a martyr at the hands of the Turks. The other four pilgrimages he made to Rome, traveling the entire distance of nearly 1,000 miles to Rome on foot.
His many achievements in the academic world did not mean he was a worldly man. He retained his simple love of God and his fellows by living an austere life, placing more value on the joys of serving God than on the pleasures this world has to offer. His discipline in eating, sleeping, and wearing simple clothes, supplemented by his prayer life and serving the poor, endeared him to many people both during his lifetime and beyond.
John Cantius was beatified on March 28, 1676 in Rome by Pope Clement X. In 1737 Pope Clement XII declared St. John Cantius to be the patron saint of Lithuania and Poland. About 100 years after John Cantius’ beatification, Pope Clement XIII canonized him on July 16, 1767. His feast day is December 23.
The love of John Cantius inspired the Polish immigrants in Chicago to honor him with the “most beautiful church in America.”
Dear St. John Cantius, look upon those who wish to do you honor and obtain for them many blessings during these turbulent times, in that famous city of Chicago, in our nation, and above all in our Church. May we follow the true teachings of our Holy Mother the Church and thus bring many souls to Christ. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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