June 9th: Blessed Blessed Joseph Anchieta, SJ

June 9th - Blessed Blessed Joseph Anchieta, SJ

Born: March 19, 1534
Died: June 9, 1597
Beatified: June 22, 1980

Blessed Joseph Anchieta was born in the Canary Islands, Spain, and son of a wealthy and prominent family. He attended the Jesuit College in Portugal and entered the Jesuit Novitiate at the age of 17. During his noviceship, he suffered a spinal dislocation which caused him pain for the rest of his life.

His superiors sent him to Brazil to regain his health but it never improved. He arrived in Brazil at 19 and had his first contact with the Tupi Indians living in the outskirts of Sao Vicente. He soon learnt to speak the native Tupi-Guarani language, as he believed that to ‘Christianize these people, he must first speak their tongue’.

Together with his superior, Fr. Manuel de Nobrega, they went to Piratininga, where they established a mission called Sao Paola, since they arrived there on the feast of St. Paul. There they taught Latin to those studying for the priesthood, taught grammar and gave catechetical instruction to the Tupi and the Portuguese children. For two decades, Joseph worked on a grammar dictionary used by Portuguese settlers and missionaries.

He served as interpreter to Fr. Nobrega. In 1563, while they were negotiating peace between the Portuguese and the Tamayo tribe, he was detained as a hostage of the Tamayo. During the three months of loneliness and frustration, Joseph composed a poem in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As he had no writing material, he wrote his Latin verses in the seashore’s wet sand and memorized the verses. After his release and return home, he wrote his poem on paper – it had 4172 lines.

After his ordination as a priest at 32, he co-founded the settlement now known as Rio de Janeirio with Fr. Nobrega and was appointed superior of the Sao Paolo and Sao Vicente missions. He also wrote drama in different languages with the plots taken from the Bible and the Catholic faith for his students to perform. He was accorded the honor of being called, ‘The Father of Brazilian National Literature’.

As he grew older, his back deteriorated and he developed a hunchback. He was twice near death but struggled to serve another 10 years at the Espirito Santo Mission. His motto was, ‘Nothing is too arduous that has for its purpose the honor of God and the salvation of souls’.

Joseph, Brazil’s most famous and indefatigable missionary finally died at the age of 63.