Jesuit priest and martyr. Born at Skotschau (Silesia), his father died young and his mother ensured that he would be educated by the Jesuits. He attended their schools at Olmutz and Prague, where he read philosophy in 1602. Unusually he then decided to marry: in 1606 he contracted marriage with a Lutheran lady, Anna Platska, but she died the year after. Shocked by this experience, he resumed his study of theology and was ordained priest in 1609. He then exercised his ministry in the diocese of Olmutz, being named pastor of Holleschau (Moravia) in 1616, whose estates had been bought by the Catholic Baron Lobkovitz and whose church he restored to the Catholic Church from the Bohemian Brethren. John and his fellow Jesuits made plenty of converts in this divided society and incurred the anger of the Protestants for doing so. These seized power in Moravia when the Thirty Years War began in 1618.
Sarkander made a pilgrimage to Czestochowa (Poland) and remained in Cracow for some months. In 1620 King Sigismund III of Poland sent in Cossack troops to Moravia to support Emperor Ferdinand III against the Protestant Estates. Although the Cossacks spared Holleschau when they met Sarkander in procession, he was accused of conspiring with the Poles, sent to Olmutz, and chained in a dungeon to await questioning. At his subsequent trial he denied all treasonable acts and refused to disclose the secret of the confessional. On 13, 17, and 18 February he was racked, branded, covered with pitch and feathers, and set alight. He just survived this treatment but died in prison a month later. He was beatified by Pius IX in 1860 and canonized by Pope John Paul II with St Zdislava Berka (d. 1252) in 1995. Although the pope both offered and asked for forgiveness for past sins committed by Catholics and Protestants against each other, this canonization aroused protests by Czech and Slovakian Protestants. Feast: 17 March.
N.C.E., xii. 1090; B.L.S., iii. 173–5;Bibl. SS., xi. 654–9 (with bibliography).