Saint Joseph of Cupertino was born on June 17, 1603. His father, Felice Desa, had died while his mother, Francesca, was still pregnant. Joseph was mentally retarded and had difficulty learning to read and write.
Although he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, he wanted to become a Franciscan Friar. At the age of seventeen, Joseph’s request to join the Friars Minor Conventuals was denied because of his lack of education. He was accepted into a Capuchin friary but was turned out eight months later.
Joseph was then accepted into a house in Cupertino where the other friars patiently helped him learn. It was solely through the grace of God that Joseph managed to become a priest. He would have to spend hours memorizing short lessons and then pray that he would not be asked anything he did not know. When he and his classmates took their final test, half of the class did so well that the bishop allowed them all to be ordained.
Like Saint John Vianney (1786-1859), the Venerable Solanus Casey (1870-1957), and many others who were not strong academically, Joseph had other qualities that proved he needed to become a priest. For example, he was able to tell if a person was in a state of mortal sin. He would then tell them that they smelled bad and needed to wash.
After his ordination, Joseph increased the fasts that he had already been observing for years. During Lent one year, he would not eat except on Thursdays and Sundays. Eventually, he was naturally unable to consume food.
On October 4, 1630, Joseph began levitating during a procession in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. He did not like the attention it drew to him particularly when he started levitating more and more frequently. He was eventually dubbed the “flying friar”.
His supernatural gifts brought to the attention of the inquisitors of Naples and he was placed on trial. Although they could not find anything evil about the innocent friar, he was sent from his house in Cupertino to the Sacro Convento friary in Assisi. When he continued to attract large crowds, he was sent to Fossombrone and later to Osimo. His life in Osimo was little more than the life of a criminal in prison.
Joseph became ill on August 10, 1663. He went into ecstasy and levitated during the August 15 Mass in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. He died on September 18, 1663. He had predicted his own death.
Saint Joseph of Cupertino was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV on February 24, 1753 and was canonized by Pope Clement XII on July 16, 1767. He is the patron saint of Cupertino, Italy and also of astronauts and aviators. His feast day is September 18.
Some people may be familiar with Joseph of Cupertino’s story because of the 1962 film The Reluctant Saint starring Maximilian Schell.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints