A saint that you just might not have heard of is John Juvenal Ancina. He is a great saint to get to know because he had his own conversion, and he shows us how to share our Catholic Faith with others.
He was born on October 19, 1545 in Fossano, Italy to a successful businessman Durando Ancina and his wife Lucia degli Araudini. Soon after his birth, he was in danger of death, and his parents prayed to St. Juvenal of Nari, who had been a bishop in the 4th Century. The little baby boy survived, and his parents named him John with a middle name of Juvenal in thanksgiving for the intercession of the saint.
As John grew up, he excelled at academics. First, Durando Ancina sent his son to study in Montpellier, France. John was then accepted to study at Turin, and later Padua and Mondovi. During his academic career, he studied mathematics, philosophy, medicine, and rhetoric.
By the age of 24, he was practicing and teaching medicine at the University in Turin. However, he knew the importance of caring for the less fortunate, and he would generously offer his services to the poor without cost.
A Turning Point
Through his academic pursuits, John had developed his talents in poetry and music, and, as a kind of hobby, he composed a number of poems and pieces of music in Italian and Latin. One of his poems was an ode to Pope Pius V which he composed and presented in public not long after the pontiff's death in 1572.
However, it was not too long after he had settled into his life of medicine, poetry, and music that John experienced a life-changing moment. Not surprisingly, it came through music.
While attending a funeral mass, John became deeply disturbed when he heard the singing of the dirge Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) which speaks of the Day of Judgment. He came to understand that God was asking for more from him that to simply try to live a life without sin.
Sensing the need to make a change, he soon resigned his position in Turin, and traveled to Rome as the personal physician of the ambassador Count Federigo Madrucci.
In Rome, his life began to open up to new avenues after he attended the lectures of St. Robert Bellarmine. The two men became friends, and St. Robert gave John lessons in theology.
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Joining the Oratory
Then John joined the Oratory founded by St. Philip Neri. In the Oratory, despite his position, training, and learning, and abilities, he chose to take the menial jobs of cleaning candlesticks and sweeping the floor. He also chose to live a life of penance by wearing a hair shirt, sleeping on the bare floor, getting only 4 hours of sleep, and eating course food.
He soon came to the attention of St. Philip Neri who counseled him to not join an order and instead he encouraged him to remain with the Oratory. He did stay. And was ordained a deacon (1579) and then a priest (1582).
In 1586, St. Philip send John to Naples to found an Oratory in the great southern city of Italy. Through his preaching and musical talents, John became well-known and well-received by the city. There are many stories about his preaching changed the lives of those who heard him. Over time, the new branch of the Oratory in Naples began to grow, and John's reputation also was burgeoning.
Much to his concern, he heard whispers that his name was being associated with several dioceses who needed a new bishop. Not surprisingly, Pope Clement VIII called him to Rome in 1596 and heard him preach for himself. The pope declared that John was the best prepared candidate for bishop had ever heard.
John following the tradition of many before him and immediately fled Rome in order to avoid being ordained a bishop. He did not feel that he was worthy of such an office and that he was not prepared to accept the responsibility.
During his time on the run, he visited various cities far from Rome and preached which ironically only cemented the desire for him to be made a bishop. In response, John went into hiding.
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Obeying the Pope
Finally, he was found, and this time, he declared, "It is time to obey and not to fly." The wandering priest returned to Rome where he was ordained bishop of Saluzza in Savoy. The pope had wanted to install him as the bishop of Mondovi, but John begged to be given Saluzza where he would be able to reach out to the Protestants who were prevalent in the diocese. The pope agreed to John's choice.
By March of 1603, he had taken possession of his new see, and he began to serve with great energy. John sought to implement the decrees of the recently concluded Council of Trent. He gathered the priests of the diocese and shared with them his plan for reform. Primarily, he promoted religious education for priests and laity alike including the use of the new catechism which had been written during the council. In addition, he promoted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Then he set out on a tour of all of the parishes of his diocese which took place over the course of about a year.
Returning to his see in August of 1604, he foretold his own imminent death. His friend discounted his words, but soon they proved to be true.
Sadly, he was poisoned by a friar whom John had warned to stop his immoral behavior. After suffering for over a week from the effects of the poison, the saint died on August 30, 1604.
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How He Shared the Faith
Here is one story that shows the way that John would evangelize.
A Calvinist named Paul Morandus from Geneva was curious about this Catholic bishop with the reputation for being a good preacher. He came to hear him speak, and afterward, after being moved by the sermon, made a call at the bishop's residence.
John welcomed him with open arms and invited him to eat with him and the priests in his household. The man was placed at the seat of honor and John treated him as his special guest that evening and over the course of the next several days. During that time Paul would hear the bishop preach and observe him in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as part of the 40 Hours Devotion.
This hospitality and exposure to the Gospel convicted Paul, and he expressed his desire to convert to the Catholic Faith. The only problem was that he feared the wrath of the community in his native Geneva which was predominately Protestant.
Hearing of another prominent Calvinist couple that had been influenced by John, Paul waited to find out what they would do before he would act. The couple converted. Then Paul learned of other Calvinists who had come under the gentle persuasion of John.
Finally, Paul took action. He took his wife and sisters with him to Rome where they were brought into the fullness of faith by the Holy Office. He then became a gardener to the Apostolic Palace in Rome where he served the remainder of his life. "Greatly preferring," as he noted, "to live as a Catholic in enforced poverty rather than as before in the hands of the devil, with many riches."
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Feast Day (memorial): August 30th