Also known as
Joseph of Copertino
the Gaper (derogatory term from his childhood)
the Flying Friar
Joseph's father, Felice Desa was a poor carpenter who died before the boy was born. Creditors drove his mother, Francesca Panara, from her home, and Joseph was born in a stable. Starting at age eight, he received ecstatic visions that left him gaping and staring into space. He had a hot temper, which his strict mother worked to overcome.
Apprenticed to a shoemaker. At age 17 Joseph applied for admittance to the Friars Minor Conventuals, but was refused due to his lack of education. He applied to the Capuchins, was accepted as a lay-brother in 1620, but his ecstasies made him unsuitable for work, and he was dismissed. Abused by his family, he continued his prayers, and was accepted as an oblate at the Franciscan convent near Cupertino. His virtues were such that he became a cleric at 22, a priest at 25. Joseph still had little education, could barely read or write, but received such a gift of spiritual knowledge and discernment that he could solve intricate questions.
His life became a series of visions and ecstasies, which could be triggered any time or place by the sound of a church bell, church music, the mention of the name of God or of the Blessed Virgin or of a saint, any event in the life of Christ, the sacred Passion, a holy picture, the thought of the glory in heaven, etc. Yelling, beating, pinching, burning, piercing with needles - none of this would bring him from his trances, but he would return to the world on hearing the voice of his superior in the order. He would often levitate and float (which led to his patronage of people involved in air travel), and could hear heavenly music.
Even in the 17th century, there was interest in the unusual, and Joseph's ecstasies in public caused both admiration and disturbance in the community. For 35 years he was not allowed to attend choir, go to the common refectory, walk in procession, or say Mass in church. To prevent making a spectacle, he was ordered to remain in his room with a private chapel. He was brought before the Inquisition, and sent from one Capuchin or Franciscan house to another. But Joseph retained his joyous spirit, submitting to Divine Providence, keeping seven Lents of 40 days each year, never letting his faith be shaken.
17 June 1603 as Joseph Desa at Cupertino, diocese of Nardo, near Brindisi in the kingdom of Naples, Italy
18 September 1663 at Ossimo, Italy of a rapidly developed but severe fever; buried in the chapel of the Conception, Ossimo
whom the Lord adds (Joseph)
24 February 1753 by Pope Benedict XIV
16 July 1767 by Pope Clement XIII