St Joseph of Copertino

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Franciscan priest. Patron saint of pilots and airline passengers. Saint Joseph was such an extraordinary saint, his fellow Christians found him hard to cope with.

He was born in a garden shed in 1603, near Brindizi in Italy. The family were very poor. Joseph's mother was widowed very early and resented her son. He spent an unhappy childhood, winning the nickname 'the gaper' for wandering about with his mouth open.

St Joseph was attracted to the religious life but initially was rejected because he was so strange and clumsy. Eventually the Franciscans at La Grotella accepted him as a stableboy. He soon learned to accomplish everything he was told and was allowed to become a monk. By 1628 he was ordained priest.

From this point on however, St Joseph begin to manifest very unusual behaviour. Barely a day went by without him falling into an ecstatic state or levitating in front of many witnesses. When carpenters came to place a cross above the alter he flew 35 feet into the air to help them. He also had an astonishing affinity with birds and animals, literally charming them out of the trees.

Because of these phenomena, people started coming to see Joseph, causing considerable disturbance to the community. Eventually they banned him from the choir and the refectory. For a while the Neapolitan Inquisition examined him but could find nothing to charge him with. He was ordered to visit Pope Urban VIII, and fell into an ecstasy as soon as he entered the room.

For 13 years Joseph was sent to Assisi. When people learnt that he was there and the crowds began, he was moved to a remote friary in Petrarossa, and then another in Fossombrone.

In 1655 his old community petitioned for his return to them and he was allowed to live out his last few years in seclusion with them.

St Joseph died in 1663, the object of official reserve and great popular veneration. He was canonised in 1767, not for his levitations and ecstasies, but for his great patience and humility. He has been compared with John of the Cross and Padre Pio.

He is a patron saint of pilots, astronauts, airline passengers, people with a mental handicap, people taking exams and poor students.

See a 1962 film on his life here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2O8WmVlOUk

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