John of Matha
Feast Day: February 8
Canonized: October 21, 1666
John was born in France in 1160. His parents were wealthy and sent him away to school so that he could receive the best education. He used the money his parents sent him to help the poor. He spent his free time performing other works of charity and paid visits to the local hospital to tend the sick.
When John graduated, he moved to a hermitage so he could spent his days in quiet prayer, but his friends visited him so often that he saw this as a sign from God that he was called to serve others as a priest. He entered the seminary and was ordained when he was 32 years old.
While Father Matha was celebrating his first Mass, he had a vision of Christ holding the hands of two men in chains—on one side was a Christian; on the other was a Moor. Father Matha lived during the time of the Crusades when Christians fought religious wars against the Moors. Thousands of Christians had been captured by the Moors and were forced into slavery, and some were tortured if they would not deny their faith. After his vision, John thought of a plan to rescue the Christian slaves. He would offer a ransom for them!
John went to Rome to ask Pope Innocent III for permission to put his plan into action. The pope was so impressed with John’s idea that he approved the founding of a new religious order led by John. The community was called the Order of the Holy Trinity. They became known as the Trinitarians.
The men who joined the order went to Morocco, Tunis, and Spain to ransom Christian slaves and return them to their homes. The Trinitarians collected the money to pay for the ransoms by begging for coins from average people and by asking for larger donations from wealthy benefactors.
John spent the rest of his life working for the freedom of Christians around the world. Today the members of the Trinitarian order work in more than 20 countries, bringing the word of God to men and women in prisons. They preach about the freedom Jesus brings to all who believe in him.
John de Matha died in 1213 in Rome. He was canonized in 1666.