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Saint John of Kanti was both a priest and a scholar. He was born in 1390 in a small town near Oswiecim, in the diocese of Krakow, Poland, to Stanislaw and Anna Kanty, who were fairly affluent. He attended the Krakow Academy where he attained a bachelor, licentiate and doctoral degrees. Upon graduation he spent three additional years preparing for the priesthood, at the end of which he was ordained. For his day, he was a delayed vocation.
John Kanty began to teach sacred scripture at the University of Krakow, with great success. However, as is usual with success, he received the opposition of his peers and was dismissed from his teaching position and sent to be a parish priest in Olkusz, Bohemia in 1431. Here he was also opposed, but within five years he had brought about such a transformation in his parish that when he was recalled to the university, the people lined the streets and wept at his departure.
John Kanty was renowned for his scholarship and his simple, even austere, life. He had no bed, slept on the floor, and never ate meat. When his superiors told him that he was being too hard on himself, and endangering his health, he remarked that the desert fathers, who lived very austere lives, lived to a remarkable old age.
Although honored by the nobility of Krakow, he was well known to the needy, whom he favored. On several occasions, he distributed all that he had to the poor.
Devoted to the truth, he told his students to fight all false opinions, but to do so with courtesy. One day he was accosted while traveling, and robbed of the few pennies he had. His robber asked him if had any more, and when John told him that he did not, the robber left in anger.
At that point, John placed his hands in his pocket, and discovered an additional grosz (coin). Unwilling to even unintentionally tell a falsehood, he chased after the robber to give him this last cent. The robber thought he was being pursued, and a foot race ensued. John Kanty won the race, and with the robber lying on the ground, John handed him his last penny. The man turned from his life of crime because of John Kanty’s goodness and his absolute devotion to the truth.
John Kanty died on Christmas eve in 1473, with Kraków being overcome with sorrow. He provides us with a model of devotion to the truth, love of poverty and simplicity, and a model of charity.
He also demonstrates the importance of learning, so that we may know God better and thus love Him more. Both a stained glass window in his honor and his relics may be found in Saint John Gualbert Church.
(Author: Rev Michael Burzynski for the AmPol Eagle, February 2013)