The Cheerful Capuchin

Saint Crispin of Viterbo

Feast Day: 19th May

What a difference a cheerful, good-humoured person can make in our lives! He or she is easy to live with, pleasant to work with, and a welcome visitor when we are feeling low. That is how Saint Crispin is remembered by many who were lucky enough to know Him.

Born near Rome in 1668 and baptised with the name Peter, his father died young leaving Peter and his step sister to be brought up by his mother. When he was five years old his mother took him to a local shrine of Our Lady telling him, "She is your mother, too, and you must honour her.” All his life, Peter remembered this incident and followed her advice.

His mother could not afford to have him educated and he went to live with his uncle, a shoemaker, who taught Peter his trade. At the age of 25 he saw a group of Capuchin novices in a procession. This prompted him to ask to be received into the Capuchin Order and when accepted was given the name Crispin after the patron saint of shoemakers. The decision to be a friar displeased his mother but he reminded her that she had encouraged him to serve the Madonna as a young boy. In his 57 years in the Order he was given the assignments of infirmarian, cook, orchard keeper and finally, for 38 years, questor, when he became well known, accomplishing a remarkable amount of good among the sick, the imprisoned, the poor and those on the brink of despair. He was a peacemaker both within and outside the friary.

Before beginning any task, Crispin always prayed first to Our Blessed Lady. When he was a cook he set up a small shrine to her in his kitchen. It is said that many sick were cured by eating food that he had placed in front of her shrine to be blessed. Even the Pope's doctor had to admit that Crispin's remedies were more effective than his! To this Crispin replied, "The Blessed Virgin can do more than all the doctors in the world." Nothing escaped his notice, particularly in discerning what people really needed. Babies were often abandoned at the door of the friary but he found them a home, and eventually arranged for them to be apprenticed in a trade, keeping in touch with many of them for years.

His wisdom brought even the learned to Crispin for counsel. He was convinced that much of human misery was due to injustice. He therefore set about to confront social injustice by reminding people of workers' rights.

But he had his critics both within and outside the friary. Some of them thought he was opinionated, aggressive and a hypocrite.

He wrote many letters and left some wise sayings. "One doesn't get to heaven in a taxi" was one of them.

At the age of 82 he became very ill. When the doctor told him he was going to die he said, "I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go to God's house.’" He died on 19 May. His incorrupt body is honoured in a Capuchin church in Rome. He was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Crispin's life was not easy but with the help of Our Blessed Lady and his spirit of cheerfulness and good humour he lightened the lives of many who found life hard. When life is not always easy for us we can ask Crispin to give us some of his spirit of cheerfulness and humour to help us make the best of things.

Saint Crispin, pray for us.