Blessed John of Vercelli: Dominican Friar, Priest, Master of the Order, pray for us!
For a quick recap on the previous Masters of the Order, please click here.
Concerning Blessed John, Fr. Gabriel Gillen wrote a concise yet inspiring overview of his life. That summary is as follows:
John was a native of Vercelli and qualified at Paris as a doctor both of civil and canon law. While he was carrying out this office at Vercelli, encouraged by the Master General Jordan, he entered the Order of Preachers. Later he founded a convent there, which he also governed as prior. Afterwards, while most religiously ruling the Province of Lombardy, he was in the year 1264 elected as sixth Master General of the Order. Austere with himself, gentle towards others, he quickly visited nearly all the Order’s convents in Europe, and for almost twenty years labored fruitfully and attentively for the good of the whole Order. Furthermore, he made out an agenda for the Second Council of Lyons and at the request of Pope Gregory X zealously propagated the practice of showing reverence to the name of Jesus. John strenuously upheld the reputation and teaching of Thomas Aquinas. Averse to honors and unremitting in his work, he died peacefully at Montpellier. The devotion shown to him from time immemorial was confirmed by Pius X.
It should further be mentioned that Blessed John, when joining the Dominican Order, was received by Blessed Jordan of Saxony, the 2nd Master of the Order, early after the Order's formation. After becoming a friar, he was transferred to Bologna, Italy where he studied History and the Theology of the Order before being ordained a priest in 1229. He went on to be an exquisite preacher throughout Bologna.
It was upon his return to Vercelli in 1232 that he established a Dominican Priory and served as its Superior. While in northern Italy, he fought many heresies and became the friend of King St. Louis IX of France and of St. Thomas Aquinas. Reflecting on our Lord's words in the Beatitudes praising peacemakers, Blessed John shined as a brilliant peacemaker between Venice and the Papal States during this period.
It was then in 1264 he became the Master General of the illustrious Order founded by St. Dominic. As Master General, he insured uniform liturgical celebrations throughout the Order and also served at the Papal Court of Pope Clement IV. After the death of Pope Clement, and upon learning that he was being considered to fill the shoes of the Pope, Blessed John fled the city in humility. Thus, Pope Gregory X was elected instead.
According to tradition, during the translation of the relics of Saint Dominic in 1267, when the body was exposed to view, the head was seen to turn towards Blessed John. Embarrassed, John moved to another part of the church, giving his place to a cardinal. The head of Saint Dominic was seen by all to turn again toward John.
While still Master of the Order of Preachers, in 1274, Blessed John founded what would eventually become the Confraternity of the Most Holy Name of God and Jesus (Holy Name Society). In 1278, he was appointed the Archbishop of Jerusalem, but he was released from this responsibility after pleading for it on account of his ill health and advanced age.
At last on November 30, 1283, Blessed John passed from this life to the next in Montpelier, France due to natural causes. He was buried at the Dominican convent there but in 1562, the Calvinist heretics desecrated the Church and his body was lost. It was in 1903 that Pope St. Pius X beatified him.
God of power and mercy, you made Blessed John an outstanding promoter of the order of Preachers. By his remarkable zeal, his wonderful prudence and his courage, and with the help of his prayers may your family always and everywhere be governed by beneficial rule. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. – General Calendar of the Order of Preachers