"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

400 Years: St John Berchmans, Flemish Jesuit Seminarian

ugust 13, 2021 is the quadricentennial or 400th anniversary since the death of St John Berchmans. Reflecting on the life of this saint, I cannot help but recall also the stages in my own spiritual journey. He is the patron saint of altar servers. This reminds me of my days when I joined the Knights of the Altar right after my First Communion at age 8. John Berchmans was born in the Belgian city of Diest, the son of a shoemaker, first of five children, three of whom entered religious life. I grew up also being schooled under the aegis of the CICM Belgian missionaries who served in my hometown, Tagudin Ilocos Sur. When he was nine years old he lovingly took care of his ailing mother who was bedridden for a lengthy period. He read the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga at the Jesuit College of Malines and this inspired him to become a Jesuit too. He entered the Jesuit novitiate on September 24, 1616. My connection with St Aloysius Gonzaga was when I studied at St Louis University which was named after him. After taking his first vows two years later, John was sent to Antwerp to begin studying philosophy. Remaining there for only a few weeks, he was asked to go to Rome instead where he could continue his studies there. He travelled nine hundred miles on foot, carrying his belongings on his back, to get to the Roman College where he stayed for the next two years of his studies. Reputed for his being an exceptional student, the prefect of studies chose him to take part in a philosophical discussion at the Greek College, which at that time was under the charge of the Dominicans. When he returned John was seized by a violent fever, due to which he died soon after on 13 August 1621 at the very young age of twenty two. At his death, a large crowd, who got wind of the holiness of John, gathered for several days to see his body and hoping too that they would be able to get a relic. His remains were laid to rest at Sant' Ignazio but his heart was sent to his native place in Belgium where it is kept to this day in a silver reliquary on a side altar of the Jesuit church at Louvain. In the same year of his death, Phillip, Duke of Aarschot, presented a petition to Pope Gregory XV to gather information with a view to the beatification of the young Berchmans. He was beatified in 1865 and was declared saint by Pope Leo XIII on January 15, 1888. Originally set on August 13, his liturgical memory is celebrated on November 26. He is usually represented in art holding a crucifix, the rule of the Jesuit Order, and a rosary.

John Berchmans is very unique as a saint because he lived a fairly ordinary kind of life, albeit, a holy one. He was not martyred, he did not perform spectacular miracles nor did he live in extreme poverty. He did not even live long enough to be ordained a priest. Despite his short life, John Berchmans became a saint because he sought to follow the will of God and the example of Christ even in the most ordinary of circumstances. He reminds me of St Mother Teresa who said that "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." St John Berchmans did not live an extraordinary life, however, he lived an extraordinary faith. Fr JM Manzano SJ

Relic of St John Berchmans on display
at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in
Grand Coteau, F Herpin


  1. Is the relic part of his heart? He is like St. Therese... in ordinary, live or love extraordinary...Both live a short life but live life to the full in Christ inspiring others. Thanks Fr. JM! I met another Jesuit saint, St. John Berchmans.

    1. Hi! I am ot quite certain if it is just a part of the heart or the whole heart. But surely it is the heart of St John Berchmans! GBU!

    2. Thanks Fr. JM! In addition, it is very nice to see your own life story parallel to St. John Berchmans. May God grace you more in your love and service to Him.

      I'm happy to be reminded of the words of one of my inspiration to enter to religious life, St. Mother Teresa, when I was in high school. Thanks once again! Have a blessed day Fr. JM!

    3. I just noticed something Fr JM. The 8thworker who was born on the 8th day of the month started to serve the Church at the age of 8 years old. So young! ; ) Mandi siempre! ( Stay with God always! )

    4. Thank you for mirroring that to me. I did not realize that until now! God bless us! ; )


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