BLESSED SIMON OF LIPNICA (1435/1440 c. - 1482)
Blessed Simon was born in Lipnica Murowana, in the south of Poland, between the years 1435-1440. His parents, Gregory and Anne, knew how to give him a good education, inspired by the values of the Christian faith, and, despite their modest conditions, they took care to secure him an adequate cultural formation. Simon grew up with a pious and responsible nature, rich in a natural predisposition towards prayer and a tender love for the Mother of God.
He moved to Krakow, to attend the famous Jagiellonian Academy, in 1454. It was precisely in those years that St. John of Capestrano enthused the city through the sanctity of his life and the fervour of his preaching, attracting a dense crowd of young, generous men to the franciscan vocation. On the 8th September 1453, the Italian saint founded the first convent of the Observance, with the name of the recently canonised St. Bernardine of Siena, in Krakow. It was for that reason that the Friars Minor of the convent were called the “Berdardini” by the people.
In 1457, the young Simon, fascinated by the franciscan ideal, also chose to acquire the pearl of great price mentioned in the Gospel and left aside a possible successful and rich future. He asked to be received, with another ten fellow students, into the convent of Stradom.
Under the wise guidance of the Novice Master, Br. Christopher of Varese, a religious renown for his teaching and sanctity of life, Simon generously embraced the humble and poor life of the Friars Minor and received the priesthood about the year 1460. He exercised his first ministry in the convent of Tarnów, where he was the Guardian of the fraternity. He later established himself in Stradom (Krakow), dedicating himself untiringly to preaching with a clear word, full of ardour, faith and wisdom, which permitted a glimpse of his profound union with God and of his prolonged study of Sacred Scripture.
Like St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John of Capestrano, Br. Simon spread devotion to the Name of Jesus, obtaining the conversion of innumerable sinners. He, the first of the Friars Minor, took up the duty of preacher in the Cathedral of Wawel in 1463. Because of his dedication to preaching the Gospel, the ancient sources conferred the title of “predicator ferventissimus” on him.
In his desire to give homage to St. Bernardine of Siena, the inspirer of his preaching, he, with some Polish confreres, went to Aquila to participate in the solemn transfer of the body of the saint, on the 17th May 1472, to the new Church erected in his honour. He was again in Italy in 1478, on the occasion of the General Chapter of Pavia. He had a way, then, to be able to satisfy his deepest desire to visit the tombs of the Apostles in Rome and to extend his pilgrimage to the Holy Land later. He lived this experience in a spirit of penance, truly loving the passion of Christ, with the hidden aspiration of spilling his own blood for the salvation of souls, if it would please God. He emulated St. Francis in his love for the Holy Places. In view of the possibility of being captured by the non-believers, he wished to learn the Rule of the Order by heart before undertaking the journey in order “to have it always before the eyes of his mind”.
The love of Simon for his brothers and sisters was manifested in an extraordinary way during the last year of his life, when an epidemic of plague broke out in Krakow. The city was under the scourge of the disease from July 1482 to the 6th January 1483. The Franciscans of the convent of St. Bernardine tirelessly did all they could to care for the sick as true consoling angels.
Br. Simone, held it to be a “propitious time” to exercise charity and to fulfil the offering of his own life. He went everywhere comforting, giving succour, administering the sacraments and announcing the consoling Word of God to the dying. He was soon infected. He suffered the pain of the disease with extraordinary patience and, near the end, expressed his desire to be buried under the threshold of the church so that all could trample on him. On the sixth day of the disease, the 18th July 1482, without fear of death and with his eyes fixed on the Crucifix, he gave his soul back to God.
The “ab immemorabili” cult rendered to Blessed Simon, which passed into the history of seraphic sanctity under the title of “Salutis omnium sitibundus”, was confirmed by Blessed Innocent XI on the 24th February 1685.
The cause of his canonisation, taken up by the Holy Father Pius XII on the 25th June 1948, today reaches its happy ending, following the recognition of his heroic virtues and of the miraculous cure which occurred in Krakow in 1943 and attributed to the intercession of the Blessed. The respective Decrees were promulgated by the Holy Father Benedict XVI on the 19th of December 2005 and the 16th December 2006.
Simon of Lipnica knew how to combine admirably his commitment to evangelisation and to giving witness to charity, which flowed from his great love for the Word of God and for the poor and suffering. The Order of Friars Minor, on the vigil of the celebration of the VIII Centenary of its Foundation (1209-2009), salutes him as an authentic witness to poverty, humility and simplicity, as well as to the joy of belonging fully to the Lord and to being a gift to the life of the Friars.