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Saint John Berchmans
Jesuit Seminarian and Saint
Born March 13, 1599(1599-03-13), Diest, Belgium
Died August 13, 1621 (aged 22), Rome, Italy
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 1865
Canonized 1888
Major shrine Sant'Ignazio
Feast November 26
Attributes Often depicted with hands clasped, holding his crucifix, his book of rules, and his rosary.
Patronage Altar Servers

Saint John Berchmans (March 13, 1599 - August 13, 1621) was a Jesuit seminarian and is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He is the patron saint of altar servers.


Early life

John Berchmans was born in the city of Diest situated in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant. By nature he was kind, gentle, and affectionate towards his parents and a favorite with his playmates during his childhood. He was brave and open, attractive in manner, and with a bright, joyful disposition. However, he was also impetuous and fickle. Still, when John was but seven years of age, M. Emmerick, his parish priest, already remarked that the Lord would work wonders in the soul of the child. Many are the details that reveal him to us as he was in the Society of Jesus. When he was nine years old his mother was stricken with a long and serious illness. John would pass several hours each day by her bedside, and console her with his affectionate (yet serious) words. Later, when he lived with some other boys at M. Emmerick's house, he would do more than his share of the domestic work, preferring the more difficult tasks. If he was loved by his friends he repaid their affection by his kindness, without deviating from the dictates of his conscience. It was even noticed that he availed himself discreetly of his influence over them to correct their negligences and to restrain their frivolous conversation. Eager to learn, and naturally gifted with a bright intellect and a good memory, he devoted himself to study whenever he could spare the time from his ordinary recreation.

What distinguished John Berchmans the most from his companions was his piety. When he was barely seven years old, he already had the habit of rising early and serve two or three Masses with the greatest fervour. He attended religious instructions and listened to Sunday sermons with the deepest attention. John also made pilgrimages to the sanctuary of Scherpenheuvel, a few miles from Diest, either reciting the rosary as he went, or being absorbed in meditation. As soon as he entered the Jesuit college at Mechelen, he was enrolled in the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, and made a resolution to recite her Office daily. Moreover, every month he would ask the director of the sodality to prescribe for him some special acts of devotion to Mary. On Fridays, at nightfall, he would go out barefoot and make the Stations of the Cross in the town. Such fervent piety won him the grace of a religious vocation.

Call to the Society of Jesus

Towards the end of his rhetoric course, John felt a distinct call to the Society of Jesus. His family was decidedly opposed to this, but on 24 September 1616, John Berchmans was received into the novitiate at Mechelen. After two years passed in Mechelen he made his first vows, and was sent to Antwerp to begin the study of philosophy. Remaining there only a few weeks, he set out for Rome, where he was to continue the same study. After journeying three hundred leagues on foot, carrying his belongings on his back, he arrived at the Roman College, where he studied for two years. He passed on to the third year class in philosophy in the year 1621. In early August of that same year, John Berchmans was selected by the prefect of studies to take part in a philosophical discussion at the Greek College, which at that time was under the charge of the Dominicans. John opened the discussion with great clarity and profoundness, but on returning to his own college he was seized with a violent fever, of which he died soon after at the age of twenty-two years and five months.

During the second part of his life, John was an example of the type of saint who performs ordinary actions with extraordinary perfection. In his purity, obedience, and admirable charity he resembled many religious figures, but he surpassed them all by his intense love for the rules of his order. The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus lead those who observe them exactly to the highest degree of sanctity, as has been declared by Pope Julius III and his successors. The attainment of that ideal was what John aspired to himself. "If I do not become a saint when I am young", he used to say "I shall never become one". That is why he displayed such wisdom in conforming his will to that of his superiors and to the rules. He would have preferred death to the violation of the least of the rules of his order. "My penance", he would say, "is to live the common life... I will pay the greatest attention to the least inspiration of God." He observed this fidelity in the performance of all his duties until the last day of his life, as is attested by his spiritual directors, the Fathers Bauters, Cepari, Ceccoti, Massucci, and Piccolomini. When he died, a large crowd gathered for several days to see him before his burial in Sant'Ignazio, and to invoke his intercession. The same year, Phillip, Duke of Aarschot, had a petition presented to Pope Gregory XV to gather information with a view to the beatification of John Berchmans.

Path to sainthood

One of his miracles happened at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau. He appeared to novice Mary Wilson. When the Academy opened a boys division in 2006, it was named St. John Berchmans School.

John Berchmans was declared Blessed in 1865, and was canonized in 1888. His statues represent him with hands clasped, holding his crucifix, his book of rules, and his rosary.


  • A philatelic stamp, featuring St John Berchmans (alongside his parental home in Diest) was issued by the Belgian postal department in 1965.


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