St. John Berchmans
Boston College, 1863
In 1599, John Berchmans was born in Diest, a rather small town in Belgium about 40 miles distant from Brussels. When he was nine years old, he was sent to live together with other boys who were being taught by the parish priest. They learned general studies as well as prayers and how to serve at Mass. The local pastor recognized that John was already certain that he wanted to be a priest, and offered to pay for him to attend school in Mechlin. During his three years of what we would think of as secondary education, he worked part-time serving at the student residence and helping with the care of the younger boarders. Thus, he was like many students who help pay their tuition through work-study. He also learned about the life of the young Jesuit Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, and decided to enroll in the newly-opened Jesuit College in Mechlin.
John felt called to become a Jesuit, and entered the Society of Jesus when he was 17 years old. Two years later, the Father General asked the Provincial of the Flemish Province to send two young Jesuits “outstanding in religious spirit and intelligence” to the Jesuits’ Roman College for further studies. John was chosen for this opportunity and so became not only conversant with the chief languages of Europe, but also very well-informed on the subject of Jesuit history and missionary activities.
By the end of his third year in Rome, John had been recognized for being “generous, lighthearted, informal and helpful” to his fellow students and for his brilliance in passing comprehensive examinations in philosophy and science. But by the end of the summer of 1621 his health failed completely, and in a short time he died of a high fever. John had accomplished no particular great deeds of public note in his short life, but those who knew him even slightly were aware of how extraordinarily well he did even ordinary things. He was declared a Saint in 1888.
He is pictured in the window as an acolyte, similar to University students today who serve at Liturgies in Sacred Heart Chapel. He holds a censor, wearing a greyish purple cassock with a white surplice, and holding in his hands a Jesuit “rule” book, a cross and a rosary: his dearest possessions. The tablets of the Ten Commandments are shown in the background, while beneath his feet is a cross and the Latin word “Tollite” (“Take it up”) from a saying of Jesus: “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
The top part of the seal of Boston College contains the seal of the Society of Jesus between two gold crowns of alternate crosses and fleurs-de-lys which come from the arms of the old Boston in Lincolnshire, England, Saint Botolph’s town. The open silver book, a symbol of learning, has an inscription in Greek that means “ever to excel.” At the bottom of the seal, the triple hill of gold on a field of red, derives from Tremont, the old name for Boston, and is taken from the coat of arms of the Archdiocese. The inscription reads: Boston College, Newton, Mass.; the foundation date is 1863. The school colors are maroon and gold.