Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. John Columbini, Confessor
[Founder of the Order of the Jesuati.] HE was descended of one of the most ancient and noble families of Sienna; and being chosen first magistrate of that commonwealth, acquitted himself of all the duties of that charge with integrity and honour, and to the great satisfaction of his countrymen; but he was passionate, and his heart was strongly wedded to the world, and buried under the weight and hurry of its business, vanity, and ambition, so that he scarcely seemed able to find leisure to breathe, or to think of eternity. One day, after being taken up the whole morning in deciding causes in his court, he came home, much fatigued, and not finding dinner ready, flew into a violent passion. His wife put a book of the Saints Lives into his hands; but he threw it on the ground. The next moment, being ashamed of his passion, he took it up again, and sitting down to read, fell on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. He read it with so much pleasure that he thought no more of his dinner; and insensibly found his heart pierced with compunction and remorse for his past sins and unthinking conduct, and entirely weaned from the world.
From that moment he resolved to begin a new life; and, to expiate his offences, he embraced the most austere practices of penance. Resigning his public employs, he consecrated the greater part of his estates to alms-deeds; and being sensible that the first sacrifice which God requires of a sinner is that of a contrite and humble heart, without which no other can be acceptable to him, he spent his time chiefly in prayers and tears. He sold his rich clothes and furniture, giving the money to the poor, that they might be intercessors in his behalf at the throne of mercy; he lay on two boards, watching great part of the night in prayer, and his house seemed converted into an hospital, so great was the number of the poor and sick that he caused to be brought thither, and attended. The whole country was astonished at so great a change, and so exemplary a penance. Francis Vincent joined him in this manner of life. They both ran the same course, and with equal paces. One day, seeing a leper lying at the door of the great church, covered with blotches and ulcers, the saint carried him on his back through the public market-place; attending him both as his servant and physician, tenderly kissing his running sores one after another, till he had perfectly overcome the abhorrence which nature inspires in such actions, and continued his care of this patient till he was perfectly cured.
St. John had one son and one daughter. The former God called to himself by death, and the latter consecrated herself to his divine service in a nunnery. St. John had before this, with his wifes consent, made a vow of chastity; and after their children were thus disposed of, he sold his estate, and gave one-third of it to an hospital, and the other two-thirds to different churches and the poor. Having thus reduced himself to a state of poverty like that of the apostles, he gave himself up to serve the poor in the hospitals, and to the exercises of devotion and the most rigorous penance. Several others, moved by his example, became his faithful imitators and companions. They were solicitous to exhort the sick and poor to the sincere dispositions of repentance, and to fervour in the divine service; and the charity and disinterestedness with which they ministered to them corporal relief and comfort, gave great force to their zealous instructions. Out of their ardent love of our Redeemer, whom they considered and served in his afflicted members, they had his holy name so often, and with so great devotion and respect in their mouths, that the people gave them the name of Jesuats. That adorable name is repeated fifteen hundred times in the few letters which St. John wrote. The number of his disciples being increased to about seventy, he formed them into a religious order, under the rule of St. Austin, and took St. Jerom for their patron.1 He addressed himself to Pope Urban V., at Viterbo, who approved and confirmed his institute in 1367, and granted to it most ample privileges. Such was the fervour of the first disciples of our saint, that almost all their names have been placed among the blessed. The holy founder fell sick soon after the approbation of his order; and, having received the last sacraments, commending his soul into the hands of his Creator, through the death of Christ, and in union with his recommendation of his divine soul to his Father on the cross, he happily expired on the 31st of July, in the year 1367, the twelfth after his conversion, only thirty-seven days after his order had been confirmed by Pope Urban V. See F. Cuper, the Bollandist, Julij, t. 7, p. 333, and Helyot, Hist. des Ord. Rel., t. 3, p. 410.
Note 1. The Jesuats of St. Jerom were at first all lay-brothers, and practised pharmacy; but, in 1606, obtained leave of Paul V. to study and take holy orders. The houses of the friars being reduced, they were suppressed by Clement IX. in 1668; but some nunneries of this Order still subsist in Italy. See the life of this saint, and those of other illustrious persons of this Order, written by Moriggia, a pious general of the same, who died in 1604; also the Bollandists and Helyot. [back]