His feast is celebrated October 12 Felix, son of Theodora and Jerome DeNicola,
was born at Montegranaro (Ascoli Piceno), Italy, about the year 1540. He was the
second of four children. His father was a mason. Because of economic necessity,
the family depended on the productivity of all of its members. The eldest son,
Silenzio, followed in his father's footsteps, wielding the trowel. The slighter
and less manually adept Felix was hired out to a local farmer as a shepherd.
Felix enjoyed shepherding since it afforded him a great deal of time and
opportunity for prayer. Even at an early age, Felix had an inclination toward
silence, seclusion, and prayer, which caused people to take notice of him in
When his father died, Felix was summoned to return home. His brother understood
that Felix lacked the skills of a mason, but hoped to use him as an unskilled
laborer. All attempts proved futile. Felix could not even learn how to slake
lime. He did learn, however, to put up with the physical and emotional abuse
heaped upon him by his irascible brother.
Felix kept in mind stories he had heard about the desert ascetics and of their
fasting and penances, and dreamed of becoming like them. He confided in a friend,
Lois Vannucci from Loro Piceno, who encouraged him to enter religious life. She
specifically mentioned the Capuchins because Capuchins had been guests at her
house and she was familiar with their reputation for virtue. Immediately, Felix
left for Tolentino and presented himself to the Capuchin minister, expecting to
be admitted that very day. But such was not the Capuchin custom. When Felix
presented himself to the local minister he was sent home, in all likelihood
because of his age and fragile condition. In 1556, Felix repeated his request to
the provincial minister who admitted him to the novitiate at Jesi, where Felix
received the name, Seraphin. Upon his reception into the Order, Seraphin
remarked, "I have nothing‹just a crucifix and a rosary‹but with these I hope to
benefit the friars and become a saint."
Externally, he remained much unchanged: hair always rumed, clumsy, all thumbs,
inept at every job, and, for the most part, illiterate. But his holiness was
easily recognizable. At times, he was discouraged by the ridicule of his Capuchin
brothers. Seraphin would regain his composure and perspective through prayer. He
explained, "When I entered religious life I was a poor, unskilled laborer,
lacking both talent and potential. I remained as I was, and this caused so many
humiliations and rebukes which the devil used as opportunities to tempt me to
leave religious life and retreat to some desert, withdrawing into myself. I
entrusted myself to the Lord, and one night I heard a voice coming from the
tabernacle say, "To serve God you must die to yourself and accept adversity, of
whatever type." So I accepted them and resolved to recite a rosary for anyone who
caused me trouble. Then I heard the voice from the tabernacle say, 'Your prayers
for those who mortify you are very pleasing to me. In exchange, I am ready to
grant you many graces.'And the wonders worked at his hands were plentiful. In
fact, people began calling him a saint, a healer and a prophet. Whatever objects
touched him seemed to work some prodigious sign.
The ancient Capuchin custom was to keep rooms near the porter's office available
for the use of travelers and pilgrims. At whatever hour of the night, Seraphin
would answer the door. Many witnesses relayed stories of how they had sought
refuge at the Capuchin friary after the city gates had been closed for the night,
and were warmly welcomed by Seraphin. Seraphin spent entire nights in church.
Friars testified that, after everyone else had gone to bed, they would often hear
Seraphin walking toward the church to spend the night in adoration before the
Blessed Sacrament. There he was heard praying, "Peace, Lord, I ask peace for
so-and-so." Seraphin once confided that the reason he spent so much of the night
in church was because, in his room, he was greatly tempted against chastity, even
in his old age.
His reputation captured the attention of all, including the dukes of Bavaria and
Parma, the Peopli nobles of Bologna, and Cardinal Bandini. To avoid having people
kiss his hand or tunic to show their respect, Seraphin would carry a crucifix
with him, offering it for them to kiss.
He was assigned as porter and questor at various friaries throughout the
prvovince of Le Marche, but most of his religious life was spent at Ascoli where,
after his death, his picture could be found in every home and even on the outside
of public buildings, displayed as if it were a noble shield or coat of arms.
Although he was not totally illiterate, Seraphin could speak about God more
eloquently than any theologian. Even the bishop of Ascoli, the eminent
theologian, Cardinal Bernerio, sought Seraphin's advice in especially difficult
With himself, Seraphin was austere. Only once in his life did he accept a new
habit, and then, only out of obedience. For 40 continuous years, all he ate was
soup or salad. In keeping with the spirituality prevalent at the time, Seraphin
had a personal devotion of serving as many eucharistic liturgies as possible.
Rich in human feeling, Seraphin possessed a great sense of humor. Once, a woman
asked him if she would give birth to a boy or a girl. Seraphin attempted to avoid
answering. But the woman insisted, saying, "How shall I know what name to
choose?" Chuckling, Seraphin responded, "As far as that goes, choose Ursula and
companions," indicating that throughout her life the woman would give birth to a
succession of girls.
He once healed a bishop who was at death's door. The bishop told him, "I made a
long journey and was hoping to enter paradise. But, thanks to you, they shut the
door in my face and threw me down the stairs, so here I am back in this world."
Seraphin died at Ascoli in the early afternoon of October 12, 1604. Even before
the burial, his first biographer put pen to paper. On July 16, 1767, Clement XIII
canonized Seraphin, together with John Cantius, Joseph Calasance, Joseph of
Copertino, Jerome Emiliani and Jane de Chantal. In the bull of canonization, the
illiterate and klutzy Capuchin was acclaimed as a person who "knew how to read
and understand the great book of life which is our Savior, Jesus Christ. For that
reason, he deserves to be listed among Christ's principle disciples."