John the Good directed his community and foundations not through juridical
norms but mainly through the power of his own personality.
John the Good or Bono, as he is referred to at times, was born in Mantua
about the year 1168. When he had reached the age of sixteen, he left his
widowed mother to become a traveling entertainer. In 1209 he became seriously
ill and vowed to reform his ways and do penance if God would spare his life.
After his recovery he began to live as a solitary, and from 1210 until his
death in 1249 he chose a remote hermitage in Butriolo, near Cesena in northern
Italy, as his dwelling. Eventually, as his reputation for holiness and simplicity
of life became known, others wished to join him and, in time, these followers
formed themselves into a congregation bearing John’s name (Zanbonini).
John, nonetheless, continued to live alone in his spartan hermitage, practicing
austere penances, and engaged in intimate conversation with God. His contemplative
lifestyle did not separate him altogether from others, however. He frequently
preached to those who sought him out, winning many over to a more devout
practice of the faith. He also established an association for lay people
known as the “Brothers and Sisters of Penitence,” quite possibly
the first Third Order founded by any of the Mendicant Orders.
John was admired by his disciples as a humble, kind, and charitable man,
filled with deep respect for bishops and the pope, as well as reverence
for the office of the priesthood, even when it was occupied by those who
abused their position. He cultivated great devotion to Mary, in whose honor
he and his community built and dedicated a church. John always remained
a layman and was apparently illiterate. He was gifted, however, with a good
memory and practical judgment, which became evident in his management of
his community’s affairs and his role as arbiter between rival towns.
About the year 1238, when he was seventy years old, John relinquished
the government of his community to devote himself to an even more intense
contemplative life. Foreseeing that death was near, he and some disciples
went to Mantua in early October 1249 where he occupied a hermitage known
as Sant’Agnese in Porto. There he died on 16 October 1249 and was
buried in the adjoining church. In 1251 his body was placed in a marble
tomb. Five investigations by church authorities between that year and 1798
verified that his body remained incorrupt. On 17 June 1251, Innocent IV
ordered that the process for his canonization be initiated. While this was
done, the same pontiff’s death three years later and other unknown
factors caused an interruption of the cause until 1483 when he was beatified
by Sixtus IV. Later appeals by the Augustinians and the Duke of Mantua for
Blessed John’s canonization met with no success.
His feast is observed by the Augustinian Family on 23 October.