Saint John of Capistrano was born in Capistrano, Italy on June 24, 1386. He was very intelligent and, for the first part of his life, was rather worldly. In 1412, he became the governor of Perugia and it was around this time that he married into an aristocratic family. It is thought that the marriage was never consummated and that it was later annulled.
In 1416, Perugia began having difficulty with the Malatestas, one of the most powerful families in all of Italy. John was sent on a peace mission but was put in prison for several months. While in captivity, John experienced his conversion and he decided to give up the world after his release.
John entered a local Franciscan friary on October 4, 1416. He was ordained in 1420 and he became a renowned theologian after studying with Saint Bernadine of Sienna (1380-1444). John was also noted for his great austerity. He never wore shoes, would only allow himself four hours of sleep per night, and almost constantly wore a hair shirt.
During the 1430s, he and Saint Bernadine tried to reform the Franciscan order and were accused of heresy. They were put on trial in Rome but were quickly acquitted. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, however, because it brought John to the attention of Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455). In 1451, the Holy Father asked him to go to other parts of Italy and deal with heretical teachings.
In 1453, Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks then directed their attention towards Italy, most particularly Rome, and John traveled all across Europe to rally soldiers for a new crusade. He was met with little to no response and, in 1456, he gathered together a small group of men and led them himself despite the fact that he was 70 years old. John of Capistrano was then called the “Soldier Priest”.
Although he survived the Siege of Belgrade (July of 1456), John, like many of his fellow soldiers, contracted the bubonic plague. Saint John of Capistrano died in Croatia on October 23, 1456. During the 18th century, the Franciscan friars founded two Spanish missions in the New World under the patronage of San Juan Capistrano. The most famous is in Southern California and the other is near San Antonio, Texas.
Saint John of Capistrano is considered the patron saint of military chaplain. His feast day is October 23.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints