John Soreth was born near Caen in Normandy in 1394 and took the Carmelite habit inthe convent of that city. He was ordained a priest about the year 1417. In Paris, heobtained his licentiate in theology in 1437 and his master's degree on May 26, 1438, after which he was regent of studies in the convent of his Order. In 1440 he was electedsuperior of his religious province in France, and from 1451 until his death (1471) he was prior general of the entire Order. In 1452 he was also granted, honoris causa, a degreeof master in theology at Padua. He is especially remembered as a reformer, that is, for his constant efforts to bring the Order back to the splendor of religious observance at a particularly critical period of history. His activity took two directions: inculcating the observance of the rule and constitutions; and introducing «observance» into as many convents as he could — that is, observance in its specific meaning with regard to poverty and to interior and exterior recollection. Both ends were procured by pontifical bulls, the decrees of general and provincial chapters, a new edition of the constitutions and a commentary on the rule. The first type of observance was imposed by authority and was obligatory for all; the second derived from the desire of individuals or of groups who desired a greater perfection, a desire which the general acknowledged, favored and defended, even by proclaiming decrees and granting privileges adapted — or at least believed to be such — to his aim. Obviously, the second form had greater probabilities of success; hence the efforts of the blessed to implant it everywhere. This form, in turn, was twofold: an «observance» which arose within the confines of aconvent that remained under the obedience to the provincials and served as a salutaryferment; the other form had already existed for some years under the name of the Mantuan congregation and had shown separatist tendencies. The first was called«Callixtine», because it was officially sanctioned by the general chapter of Paris in 1456and was confirmed on April 13 of the following year by Pope Callixtus III. The secondwas also called «Eugenian», because it had been Pope Eugene IV to approve it. BlessedSoreth was also generous with this second group; together with other actions, hefavored the passage of some convents to its jurisdiction and dealt with its religious withsuch familiarity that, when he was among them, he seemed to be their local priorrather than the general. Bl. Soreth often visited the Order, presiding at chapters, putting statutes in order,protecting the rule and constitutions. Rubric IV of the second part of the constitutions,rearranged and promulgated by him in 1462, contains the manner of conducting thecanonical visitations. It is legitimate to suppose that it was his method: to interest oneself minutely in the individual convents, to study the causes of eventual defects andto prescribe the remedies, but then to return later in order to be assured that thereligious have really done something in the directions indicated. In order to explain his thoughts better, he composed the Expositio paraenetica inRegulam Carmelitarum /A Hortatory Exposition of the Rule of the Carmelites/: paternalcounsels and warm exhortations, not only to have the indispensable observed, but alsoto reach the spirit, the perfection of the regular life. The whole treatise is permeatedwith his personal experience as religious, provincial and general.
Another activity of the blessed had to do with the beginnings of the Carmelite nuns. As early as 1452 he had received the Beguines of the monastery «Ten Elsen» of Gueldrenunder the direction of the Order; and this affiliation he perfected in the following year,after the concession of the bull Cum Nulla (Oct. 7, 1452) on the part of Pope Nicholas V. At Florence he entrusted the «Sisters of the Order» to a priest of the observanceof the Selve /Woods/; in 1455 he incorporated the «cloistered Sisters» of Nieukirk into the Order. During the same period the monastery of Dinant was founded; then therearose the monasteries of Liege in 1457, and of Harlem and Huy in 1466. In 1463 the monastery of Bon-don was begun in the duchy of Brittany; and here, on March 25, 1468, the blessed received the duchess herself, the Blessed Frances of Amboise, into theOrder. In 1468 the monastery of Namur was inaugurated, and in 1469 that of Vilvoorde. Blessed Soreth died at Angers on July 25, 1471, and Bl. Baptist Spagnoli dedicated an elegy to him. He was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1866.
He is represented with a pix in his hand, in memory of an event which occurred in Liegeduring the devastation of the city on the part of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy andCount of Flanders. Braving death, Bl. Soreth gathered up the Sacred Hosts which the populace had seized and thrown about on the ground, and carried them into the church of his Order.