Founder of the Congregation of Jesuati (ca. 1300-1367)
John Colombini, BLESSED, founder of the Congregation of Jesuati; b. at Siena, Upper Italy, about 1300; d. on the way to Acquapendente, July 31, 1367. There was nothing in his early life to indicate the presence in his character of any unusual seeds of holiness. Belonging to an old patrician family, he devoted himself, like thousands of his class in Italy, to commerce, swelled his already substantial fortune, and rose to a position of great prominence and influence among his fellow-citizens, who on several occasions elected him gonfalonier. Fortunate in his marriage, of which two children—Peter and Angela—were the fruit, his private life was marred by his avarice, his ambition, and his proneness to anger. One day, while still suffering under a sense of mortification after one of his passion-ate outbursts occasioned by a petty domestic disappointment, he chanced to take up a biography of St. Mary of Egypt, whose later life had been as conspicuous for penance as her earlier had been for sin. The perusal of this narrative brought a new light into his life; henceforth ambition and anger gave way to an almost incredible humility and meekness. The great transformation of his life extended to his business affairs, and excited in the purely mercenary-minded a ridicule easy to understand. Heedless, however, of raillery, he did not rest content with selling cheaper than any other merchant, but persisted in paying more for his purchases than the sum demanded. With the consent of his wife he soon abandoned his former patrician associates, visited hospitals, tended the sick, and made large donations to the poor. Then, casting aside the clothes usual to his station, he assumed the garments of the most indigent, and, having fallen ill and believing himself treated with too much delicacy at home, deserted his luxurious house for the ordinary ward of a poor hospital. His relations urged him to return, and finally elicited his consent on the condition that thenceforth he would be given only the coarser forms of nourishment. Nursed back to health, he insisted on making his house the refuge of the needy and the suffering, washing their feet with his own hands, dispensing to them bodily and spiritual comfort, leaving nothing undone that the spirit of charity could suggest. Among the wonders recorded to have taken place in this abode of Christian mercy was the miraculous disappearance of a leper, leaving the room permeated with an indescribable fragrance.
It required eight years to render his wife reconciled to the extraordinary philanthropy of her husband. His son having meanwhile died and his daughter taken the veil, Colombini with the approval of his wife, on whom he first settled a life-annuity, divided his fortune into three parts: the first went to endow a hospital, the second and third to two cloisters. Together with his old friend Francisco Mini, who had been associated with him in all his charitable labors, Colombini lived henceforward a life of apostolic poverty, begged for his daily bread, and esteemed it a favor to be allowed to wait on the sick poor, while in public and in their dwellings he stimulated the people to penance. He was soon joined by three of the Piccolomini and by members of other patrician families, who likewise distributed all their goods among the poor. Alarmed at these occurrences, many of the Sienese now raised an outcry, complaining that Colombini was inciting all the most promising young men of the city to "folly", and succeeded in procuring his banishment. Accompanied by twenty-five companions, Colombini left his native city without a protest and visited in succession Arezzo, Citta di Castello, Pisa and many other Tuscan cities, making numerous conversions, reconciling sundered friends, and effecting the return of much property to its rightful owners. An epidemic which broke out at Siena shortly after his departure, was generally regarded as a heavenly chastisement for his banishment, and there was a universal clamor for his recall. Regardless alike of derision and insult, he resumed on his return his former charitable occupations, in his humility rejoicing to perform the most menial services at houses where he had once been an honored guest.
On the return of Urban V from Avignon to Rome (1367), Colombini and his followers hastened to meet him, and begged him to sanction the foundation of their institute. A commission appointed by Urban and presided over by Cardinal William Sudre, Bishop of Marseilles, having attested their freedom from every taint of the error of the Fraticelli, whose views some evil-intentioned people had accused them of holding, the pope gave his consent to the foundation of their congregation. The name Jesuati (Jesuates) had already been given them by the populace of Viterbo because of their constant use of the ejaculation "Praise be to Jesus Christ." From the very beginning they had a special veneration for St. Jerome, and, to this fact and to the apostolic life they led, they are indebted for their longer title, Clerici apostolici s. Hieronymi (Apostolic Clerics of St. Jerome). Urban appointed as their habit a white soutan, a white four-cornered hood hanging round the neck and falling in folds over the shoulders, and a mantle of a dun color; the soutan was encircled by a leathern girdle, and sandals were worn on the feet. Their occupations were to be the care of the sick, particularly the plague-stricken, the burial of the dead, prayer, and strict mortification (including daily scourging). Their statutes were at first based on the Rule of St. Benedict, modified to suit the aims of the congregation, but the Rule of St. Augustine was later adopted. Colombini died a week after the foundation of his institute, having appointed Mini his successor. After many miracles had occurred at his tomb, Gregory XIII inserted Colombini's name in the Roman Martyrology, fixing July 31 for the celebration of his feast, which is of obligation at Siena. Under Mini and his successor, Blessed Jerome Dasciano, the Jesuati spread rapidly over Italy, and in 1606 the Holy See allowed the reception of priests into the congregation. Abuses, however, crept in subsequently, and the congregation was suppressed by Clement IX in 1668 as of little advantage to the interests of the Church.
The Jesuatesses or Sisters of the Visitation of Mary, founded about 1367 at the suggestion of Colombini by his cousin Blessed Catharine Colombini of Siena (d. October 20, 1387), spoke as little as possible, fasted very strictly, and chastised their bodies twice daily. They also spread very rapidly, and survived in Italy until 1872.