Bernardine, “The Apostle of Italy,” was born on September 8, 1380 in the Tuscan town of Massa Marittima. His father, a member of the noble Sienese family of Albizeschi, was governor of the region.
Because Bernardine was orphaned at an early age, two aunts raised him like their own son. His youth was blameless, pious and studious.
In the year 1400, the plague descended with a vengeance upon Siena. Twelve to twenty people were dying daily at the city’s largest hospital, which was soon bereft of caring personnel. The twenty-year-old Bernardine volunteered to take charge of the hospital with another ten companions whom he had convinced to lay down their lives for the sake of the countless stricken and dying.
Four grueling months later, several of his companions died, but Bernardine escaped contagion. Nevertheless, weakened by his tireless labor, he contracted a fever from which his health never fully recovered.
He went on to join the Franciscans and was ordained on September 8, 1404. About two years later, St. Vincent Ferrer, one of the greatest preachers of all time, while in Italy, foretold that his mantle would descend upon one listening to him, saying he would return to France and Spain leaving to another the task of evangelizing the people of Italy. Twelve years were to pass before this prediction was fulfilled, as Bernardine lived a life of retirement in the monastery.
In 1417 his fiery eloquence burst forth, inflaming the souls of the multitudes. He preached fearlessly in cities large and small rebuking evil in places high and low. After hearing him, penitents of all classes flocked in droves to the confessionals. His great devotion was to the Holy Name of Jesus and as he preached, he would hold up a plaque with the initials "I.H.S." an acronym for the name of JESUS, and had people place the Holy Name over the gates of towns, and over the entrances of their houses and businesses.
Pope Pius II who listened to Bernardine in his youth said that people listened to him as to another Apostle St. Paul. Tirelessly and on foot, he traversed the length and breath of Italy, launching a true moral reform.
In 1444, although ill, Bernardine traveled to the Kingdom of Naples to preach. Being too weak to walk, he was obliged to ride an ass. Nevertheless, worn out by his forty years of apostolate, he died lying on the bare ground on the eve of the Ascension, as his companion Friars chanted: Pater manifestavi nomen Tuum hominibus … Father I have manifested Thy Name to men.
After a funeral of unprecedented splendor, miracles multiplied and he was canonized in 1450.