The name “La Verna” is special to Franciscans, as referring to the site where St Francis of Assisi received the stigmata. Kevin Elphick, a Franciscan scholar who has written on queer Franciscan saints for Kittredge Cherry’s Jesus in Love blog, has an extensive post on Blessed John of La Verna, Franciscan friar who lived in Italy from 1259-1322.
(In addition to the inherent interest of his subject, even the title has a particular resonance to me. “La Verna” is also the name of a Franciscan retreat house outside Johannesburg, where a few years ago I experienced an especially intense directed retreat, which I described at Queering the Church as “six days that changed my life”.)
Here’s the opening paragraphs of Elphick’s post. Read the whole piece at Jesus in Love
Hidden in musty libraries and on the sagging shelves of convents and monasteries are countless lives of the saints and blessed, gathering dust, and in many cases forgotten. With thousands of lives of the saints in existence, it is inevitable that some of these are our stories, the stories of LGBTQ saints and blesseds throughout the ages. One of the purposes of the genre of saints’ lives, “hagiographies,” is to ensure that the contemporary faithful might find examples from the past with which to identify, and personally recognizable models of sanctity to emulate. As such, the time is overdue for the LGBTQ communities to name and claim our patron saints.
One such candidate is Blessed John of La Verna (also called Giovanni della Verna, Blessed John of Fermo and Giovanni da Fermo), a Franciscan friar who lived in Italy from 1259-1322 C.E. While “gay” and “lesbian” are contemporary categories and not appropriate to use as accurate labels of historical figures, still our collective gaydar is often attuned enough to detect our kinfolk and LGBTQ ancestors even across the centuries. John of La Verna is one such figure that should attract our attention.