He was born Giuseppe Maria Desa, the son of Felice Desa and Francesca Panara in the village of Cupertino, then in the Province of Apulia, in the Kingdom of Naples, now in the Italian Province of Lecce. His father having died before his birth, however, the family home was seized to settle the large debts he had left, and his mother was forced to give birth to him in a stable.
Joseph began to experience ecstatic visions as a child, which were to continue throughout his life, and made him the object of scorn. His life was not helped by his frequent outbursts of anger. He was soon apprenticed by his uncle to a shoemaker. Feeling drawn to religious life, in 1620 he applied to the Conventual Franciscan friars, but was rejected due to his lack of education. He then applied to the Capuchin friars in Martino, near Taranto, by whom he was accepted in 1620 as a lay brother, but he was dismissed as his continued ecstasies made him unfit for the duties required of him.
After Joseph returned to the scorn of his family, he pleaded with the Conventual friars near Cupertino to be allowed to serve in their stables. After several years of working there, he had so impressed the friars with the devotion and simplicity of his life that he was admitted to their Order, destined to become a Catholic priest, in 1625. He was ordained a priest on March 28, 1628. He was then sent to the Madonna delle Grazie, Gravina in Puglia, where he spent the next 15 years.
After this point, the occasions of ecstasy in Joseph’s life began to multiply. It was claimed that he began to levitate while participating at the Mass or joining the community for the Divine Office, thereby gaining a widespread reputation of holiness among the people of the region and beyond. He was deemed disruptive by his religious superiors and Church authorities, however, and eventually was confined to a small cell, forbidden from joining in any public gathering of the community.
As the phenomenon of flying or levitation was widely believed to be connected with witchcraft, Joseph was denounced to the Inquisition. At their command, he was transferred from one Franciscan friary in the region to another for observation, first to Assisi (1639–1653), then briefly to Pietrarubbia and finally Fossombrone, where he lived with and under the supervision of the Capuchin friars (1653–57). He practiced a severe asceticism throughout his life, usually eating solid food only twice a week, and adding bitter powders to his meals. He passed 35 years of his life following this regimen.
Finally, on 9 July 1657, Joseph was allowed to return to a Conventual community, being sent to the one in Osimo, where he soon died.
Joseph was beatified in 1753 and canonized in 1767. His feast day is Sept.18.
“Servant of God, Set the example !
Preach by actions more than by words.
Actions penetrate the heart,
words slip by and are gone.”
(St. Joseph of Cupertino, OFM, Conv.)