Saint John of Kanty

December 23: Saint John of Kanty (Cantius), Priest—Optional Memorial

c. 1390–1473
Patron Saint of teachers, students, priests, pilgrims, Lithuania, and Poland
Canonized by Pope Clement XIII on July 16, 1767
Liturgical Color: Violet

Fight all false opinions, but let your weapons be patience, sweetness and love. Roughness is bad for your own soul and spoils the best cause. ~Saint John of Kanty

Reflection: Jan Kanty (John Cantius in English) was born in 1390 in the small town of Kęty, in the Kingdom of Poland. Kęty is about ten miles south of Oświęcim, which the Nazis renamed Auschwitz, the location of the largest and most horrific concentration camp in World War II. Kęty is also thirteen miles west of Wadowice, where Pope Saint John Paul II was born 530 years later.

As a youth, John proved to be both intelligent and devout, receiving his early education in his hometown. Around the age of twenty-three, he enrolled in the Kraków Academy where he studied philosophy. Kraków Academy was the only university in the Kingdom of Poland at that time, being founded in 1364 by King Casimir III the Great. In 1817 it was renamed the Jagiellonian University and is where Pope John Paul II studied. During John Cantius’ studies, he was introduced to the spiritual movement called Devotio Moderna (Modern Devotion), which emphasized personal devotion, humility, and interior conversion, especially through the meditation upon Sacred Scripture and personal prayer.

Around the year 1418, John earned his doctorate in philosophy, taught philosophy classes at the Kraków Academy, and studied theology for three years. Upon completing his theological studies, John was ordained a priest and became the rector at the school of the Canons Regular of the Most Holy Sepulcher in Miechow, about twenty-five miles north of Kraków, where he served for about eight years. The Canons Regular of the Most Holy Sepulcher followed the Rule of Saint Augustine. One of Father John’s duties was to work as a copyist of Scripture and books, since the printing press had not yet been invented. As a copyist, Father John grew in an intimate knowledge of Sacred Scripture. He also copied the works of Saint Augustine, inspiring within him a deep love of Augustinian philosophy and theology. Throughout his life, Father John copied more that 18,000 pages of text that still exist, and most likely many more that do not. 

In 1429, Father John happily accepted a position at Kraków Academy. He became a beloved professor of Sacred Scripture, philosophy, and theology. His disposition was always humble, cheerful, serious, and godly. Most notably, Father John had a reputation for making complex philosophical and theological concepts accessible to his students, combining depth with clarity and practical application. He also continued his theological studies at the Kraków Academy, earning a doctorate in theology, and later fulfilled additional administrative responsibilities as the head of the Philosophy Department, and eventually as head of the Theology Department.

In addition to being an excellent professor, Father John took care of the spiritual needs of his students with compassion and concern. In the pulpit, Father John was known as a powerful preacher and a defender of orthodoxy. At that time, one of the raging debates within the Church was conciliarism, an assertion that the pope should submit to the authority of Church councils. Father John became a staunch defender of the papacy, which had a profound effect upon his colleagues and students.

Father John also became well known and well loved within the city of Kraków for his exceptional generosity and love of the poor. Whatever he had was theirs, minus the meager amount he needed to provide for his own needs. His clothing, money, and food were not off limits. One story relates that one time he even gave away his shoes to a poor person. When asked why he was going barefoot, he replied that a poor person needed his shoes more than he did.

Father John’s prayer life was greatly enhanced by his penitential life. He slept on the floor and ate very little. He made an 1,800-mile pilgrimage on foot to the Holy Land, carrying with him his one sack of belongings. He made four such pilgrimages to Rome, a mere 900-mile walk each way. 

As with many saints, miracles are also attributed to him. One legend relates that he came upon a poor young lady who was a servant to a strict and severe woman. While on an errand to fetch some milk, she accidentally dropped her jar, breaking it and spilling the milk. Father John had compassion for her, prayed over the jar, and miraculously fixed it. Even the milk was returned. Other stories relate miraculous healings of the sick and the recovery of stolen money. Many more miracles were attributed to his intercession by those who visited his tomb after his death. These later miracles drew pilgrims from across Europe to the university’s Collegiate Church of Saint Anne, where he was buried.

As we honor Saint John Cantius, ponder the fact that his attributes that made him so beloved were his humility, generosity, simplicity, concern for others, and diligence in his daily duty. These are qualities that we can all imitate in our own lives and are qualities that can produce saints. Consider any ways that you struggle with these qualities, and seek to imitate this humble servant of God.

Prayer: Saint John Cantius, though you were a great intellectual, your humility and deep faith, coupled with your genuine love for those whom you ministered to, had a lasting effect upon the people of your community, and upon all of Poland. Please pray for me, that I will learn from your life and imitate your virtues so that I, too, will one day be counted among the saints. Saint John Cantius, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year
Volumes One–Four

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