John Berchmans was born the eldest son of a shoemaker in 1599 at Diest, Belgium. At a very young age he wanted to be a priest, and when thirteen he became a servant in the household of one of the cathedral canons at Malines.
After his mother’s death, his father and two brothers followed suit and entered religious life. In 1615 he entered the Jesuit college there, becoming a novice a year later. In 1618 he was sent to Rome for more study and was known for his diligence and piety, and his stress on perfection even in small things. That year his father was ordained and died six months later.
John was so poor and humble that he walked from Antwerp to Rome. He died at the age of 22 on August 13. Many miracles were attributed to him after his death; he was canonized in 1888 and is the patron saint of altar boys.
Although he longed to work in the mission fields of China, he did not live long enough to permit it. After completing his course work, 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 with an undetermined illness accompanied by a fever, although some think it now to have been dysentery, and died a week later.
He was buried in the church of Saint Ignatius at Rome, but his heart was later transferred to the Jesuit church at Louvain.
So many miracles were attributed to him after his death at the age of 22, that his devotion soon spread to his native Belgium, where 24,000 copies of his portrait were published within a few years of his death. He was known for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady, to whom he composed a Chaplet in honor of her Immaculate Conception.
Quotes of St.John Berchmans
“Our true worth does not consist in what human beings think of us. What we really are consists in what God knows us to be.”
“To merit the protection of Mary, the smallest act of veneration would be enough, provided that it is performed with constancy.”
“If I do not become a Saint when I am young, I shall never become one.”
(In fact, he died at the early age of twenty-two and he had, without any doubt,
reached his goal of sanctity.)
As he was dying, he pressed to his heart his Crucifix, his Rosary, and the Book of Rules,
These are my three treasures; with these I shall gladly die.
TO AN ALTAR BOY
To be Christ’s page at the altar,
To serve Him freely there.
Where even the Angels falter,
Bowed low in reverent prayer.
To touch the throne most holy,
To hand the gifts for the feast,
To see Him meekly, lowly,
Descend at the word of the priest.
To hear man’s poor petition,
To sound the silver bell,
When He in sweet submission,
Comes down with us to dwell.
No grander mission surely
Could Saints or men enjoy;
No heart should love more purely,
Than yours my altar boy.
God bless you, lad, forever,
And keep you in His care,
And Guard you that you never
Belie the robes you wear.
For white bespeaks untainted
A heart both tried and true;
And red tolls love the sainted
The holy martyrs knew.
Throughout life, then, endeavor
God’s graces to employ;
And be in heart forever
A holy altar boy.
—— by St. John Berchmans
St. John Berchmans, be my patron!
Prayer to St.John Berchmans
Saint John, angelic youth, sweet-scented flower of innocence,
stalwart soldier of the Company of Jesus, ardent defender of
the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, whom
the all-wise Providence of God hath set forth as a light and
pattern, in order that He might reveal in thee the treasures of
that holiness which consisteth in the devoted and holy
fulfillment of the common duties of life, I earnestly beseech thee
to make me ever constant and faithful in observing the duties
of my state of life, pure in heart, fearless and strong
against the enemies of my eternal salvation, and
cheerfully obedient to the promptings of God’s holy will.
By thy singular devotion to the loving Mother of Jesus Christ,
who looked upon thee also as her dear son, obtain for me the
grace of a fervent love for Jesus and Mary, together with the
power of drawing many others to love them in like manner.
Wherefore, dear Saint John, I choose thee as my special
patron, humbly beseeching thee to make me zealous in the
things that pertain to the praise of God, and to assist me by
thy mighty help, to lead a life filled with good works. Finally,
when the hour of death cometh, do thou, of thy loving kindness,
cherish in me those motions of humble confidence, which at
the moment of thy departure from this world to thy mansion in
the skies, as thou didst lovingly clasp to thy breast the Image
of Jesus Crucified, together with Mary’s Rosary and thy Book
of Rules, impelled thee to utter these sweet words:
“these three things are my dearest possessions;
with these I am content to die.”
Pray for us, Saint John, that we may be made worthy
of the promises of Christ.
Grant, we beseech Thee O Lord God, unto Thy
faithful servants, to copy the pattern of innocence
and faithfulness in Thy service, wherewith the angelic
youth, John, did consecrate to Thee the very flower
of his years. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.