Blessed 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 found 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 an 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, 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.
Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Blessed John the Good by Mario Ferrari, Rome, Italy.