Feast Day: December 23rd
Today we take ourselves back more than 600 years ago to the village of Kenty, in southern Poland (actually, only a handful of miles from where St. John Paul II grew up, though also very near to where the Nazi’s would establish the Auschwitz concentration camp). It is one of the oldest established cities in Poland, tracing its founding back to 1277, but a century later, when Jan (John) was born, it was still a fairly small place, with little to indicate all that would come from the new little boy.
As always, perhaps the first thing that strikes us about any saint is the famous things they did or characteristics that marked them. John was an intelligent young man, and ended up attending university at the Academy of Krakow (later to become the Jagiellonian University), which is the second oldest university in Europe, and would over the course of 6+ centuries of teaching, graduate countless prestigious alumni. A few highlights include figures such as Nicolas Copernicus (discovered heliocentrism), St. Stanislaus Kazimierz (tremendous, saintly priest), King John Sobieski (who is depicted in one of our stained glass windows in the Cathedral), Karol Wojtyla (who became Pope John Paul II), as well as our own Bishop Paprocki.
Back to Jan though, he showed his mettle as a student in philosophy, theology, scripture, spirituality, and all the sorts of things you might expect a soon-to-be-ordained young man to. He also became known for his generosity and compassion towards the poor, especially, as he became a professor soon at that same university, for the students who attended his classes, for their spiritual, academic, and physical needs. His patience and holiness were shown in a different light when he was jealously ousted from the university and sent off to be a parish priest, where the famous scholar happily cared for a little flock until restored to his place at the Jagiellonian. And, of course, a bit of poverty and simplicity also marked his life: he was known to eat very simply, went on pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem (carrying everything he needed on his back, though he didn’t have a whole lot since he gave away most of his possessions to those who needed them more than he.) He’s, not surprisingly, the patron Saint of Teachers, Students, Priests and Pilgrims, which means he’s a patron for almost all of us!
But I want to direct our attention here to a different interest of his life: he helped develop further Fr. Jean Buridan’s theory of impetus. Now, I suspect none of us have heard of Kenty, perhaps not John of Kenty either, and most probably not Jean Buridan and his theory of impetus. But, this philosopher and physicist and priest developed a revision of the long-held Aristotelian understanding of motion (which assumed that the air/atmosphere somehow kept things moving because something had to), and instead proposed that an object’s motion is imparted to it by some mover, and is proportional to the speed, and mass, that the object has (minus the resistance that air imparts). John of Kenty (I should mention, also known as St. John Cantius, the patron of the order of priests who are our nearest neighbors over at Sacred Heart), a priest, a pilgrim, a professor, and a pauper, was also a physicist, and made significant contributions to a theory that would later develop into Newton’s understanding of inertia, and all the way into the classical physics we all learn in school.
What’s the takeaway? Holiness doesn’t mean you have to be boring. The interests, ideas, inspirations, and other things that fill your heart have a place in heaven. Give thanks to the giver of those gifts today, and use them for His glory!
– Fr. Dominic Rankin spent a lot of hours growing up with lego’s, erector sets, k’nex, and other such construction/mechanical-creation sorts of toys. He does not have as much time as then to tinker with things, but continues to be entranced by physics, astronomy, aeronautics, electricity, robotics, etc. He hasn’t yet made a major scientific breakthrough, but wouldn’t mind if that became a small part of his walk towards holiness one day.