St. John of Matha
St. John of Matha dedicated his priesthood to saving captive Christians, and his confidence in God's help with that endeavor even saved him from shipwreck.
John was born in France in 1160, and lived as a hermit for a while. He went on for studies at the University of Paris, where he earned his doctorate in theology. During his schooling, he was ordained a priest, and when he celebrated his first Mass, he had a vision that urged him to dedicate his life to freeing Christians who had been captured during the crusades.
John sought advice about this vision. He heard of a reclusive hermit and holy man, St. Felix of Valois, and he went and lived with him for a time. The two decided to begin a religious order dedicated to freeing Christians being held for ransom by Muslims in north Africa.
On this date in 1198, the two saints went to Rome and received the approval of the pope to found the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, known as the Trinitarians. Members of the order raised money in Europe and then traveled to north Africa to ransom many captives. John himself traveled to Tunis several times and freed more than 100 slaves on each trip. The order grew and spread through France, Spain, Italy, and England.
During his second trip, Muslim captors grew angry with John because he gave prisoners hope and urged them to constancy in their faith. Muslims raided his ship, removed the helm, and tore the sails so that John and his freed Christians would be lost at sea. John was full of confidence in God, however, and the Christians on the ship rigged their cloaks as sails. During their journey, John held a crucifix and knelt on the bow, praying psalms, and the ship arrived to Italy in safety.
St. John of Matha died on this date in 1213; his relics rest in the reliquary, and his image is used here with the permission of Catholic.org.
St. John of Matha, who spent his life setting captives free, pray for us!