Born on March 13, 1599, in Diest, Belgium (about 40 miles northeast of Brussels), John was sent at the age of nine to live with a group of boys in the local rectory where the parish priest taught general studies as well as prayer and serving Mass. John's father had expected his son to learn a trade, but the local pastor offered to pay for John's continuing education, so John went to Mechlin, about 35 miles east of his hometown. For three years, he studied, ran errands, served at table and took care of younger boarders. Then, influenced by his reading of the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, John enrolled in the newly-opened Jesuit College.
John entered the Society of Jesus on September 4, 1616. Shortly after his profession of vows on September 15, 1618, the Father General asked the Father Provincial of the Flemish Province to send two young Jesuits, "outstanding in religious spirit and intelligence" to the Jesuits' Roman College. As a student there, John studied philosophy, took part in public disputations, and was conversant with the chief languages of Europe.
Three descriptions of John are noteworthy: He was said to be "a generous student: lighthearted, informal and helpful to other students" as well as a young Jesuit who possessed a" remarkable gift of winning souls to the path of holiness." The documents of the Roman College note that he was "one of the best-informed men on the subject of Jesuit history and missionary activities."
However, after three years in Rome his health failed. In March 1621, he passed "a brilliant final examination in philosophy and science," and in July and August he took part in two pubic disputations. After the second disputation on August 6 he developed a high fever. A few days later, he asked for three things: his crucifix, his rosary and the Rule Book of the Society of Jesus. He died on August 13, 1621.
John Berchmans was beatified on May 9, 1865, and canonized on January 15, 1888.
[sources: Tylenda and Corley]