Bonaventure

Bonaventure was born at Bagnorea in the Papal States in 1221, and was given the name John in baptism. As a child of four years he became seriously ill and was given up by the physicians. His mother hurried to Francis, who was preaching in the vicinity just then, and begged him to come and heal her child. He followed her home, prayed over the child, and immediately he was cured. Francis is said to have uttered the prophetic words: "O buona ventura - O blessed things to come!" For that reason the child was called Bonaventure.

Endowed with remarkable gifts and raised in a home filled with faith, Bonaventure entered the Franciscan Order as a young man. After completing his first year, he continued his studies under the great Alexander of Hales, who admired the young friar’s talent and other virtues. During his student years, Bonaventure developed a gift for contemplation and a devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Because of his extensive and profound knowledge, he was appointed professor of theology at the University of Paris at the early age of 27. The great Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas was there at the same time. It was remarked that the university never had a greater teacher than Bonaventure – he grasped and taught theology with his heart as well as with his mind, with his conduct as well as his words. When Aquinas asked Bonaventure from which books he obtained his unparalleled knowledge, Bonaventure pointed to the crucifix.

In 1257, Bonaventure was unanimously chosen as Minister General. He led the order for 18 years, and regulated everything that pertained to convent life and the external activity of the friars. His work was so comprehensive and well received that he is sometimes called the second founder of the order.

Painting by Francisco de Zurbaran c.1640-1650

Franciscan convents had already been established in all parts of the world; Bonaventure divided them into provinces. He drew up ordinances for the faithful observance of the rule, which formed the basis for all future constitutions of the order. At the same time he met patiently with any friar who needed his time, and at times performed the lowliest duties in the convent. He prescribed that the Angelus bell be rung daily in all Franciscan churches. The custom soon spread throughout the Catholic world.

Even with all these other duties, Bonaventure still found time to preach and write. He declined several opportunities to become a bishop until 1273 when Pope Gregory X obliged him to accept the appointment as bishop of Albano and the elevation to Cardinal. The pope himself consecrated him bishop and then entrusted him with the direction of the Council of Lyons. To the great satisfaction of the pope and the fathers of the Council, members of the schismatic Greek churches also attended this assembly. At their arrival Bonaventure delivered an address, which he opened with the text: "Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and look about towards the east, and behold thy children gathered together from the rising to the setting sun." (Bar. 5:5). Due to his efforts during the Council, the churches were reunited.

St. Bonaventure's Body Lying in State, by de Zurbaran

Seemingly worn out by the heavy strain, Bonaventure fell ill after the Council’s third session. He declined rapidly and the pope himself administered the last rites. Bonaventure died during the night between the 14th and 15th of July, 1274. The pope and all the members of the Council attended the funeral.

Bonaventure was canonized in 1482 and was given the title Doctor of the Church in 1587. Because his writings are filled with the theme of God’s overwhelming, abiding love, he is called the Seraphic Doctor.