John Yu Jung-cheol (1779-1801)
John Yu Jung-cheol, also called ‘Jong-seok` was born in 1779 in Chonam, Jeonju (now, Namgye-ri, Iseo-myeon, Wanju-gun, Jeonbuk). He was the elder son of a rich and noble family. Augustine Yu Hang-geom, who was martyred in 1801, was his father. Lutgarda Yi Sun-i was his wife and John Yu Mun-seok was his younger brother.
His family first accepted the Catholic faith when his father Augustine Yu learned about the doctrine of the Catholic religion from Francis Xavier Kwon Il-sin of Yanggeun, Gyeonggi-do and became a Catholic. It was soon after Catholicism was introduced to Korea. From that time on his father, Augustine Yu, devoted himself to proclaiming the Gospel to his family and friends. His house became the center for the Catholics in the Jeolla-do region.
It was in such a Christian environment that John Yu Jung-cheol grew up and received the Sacrament of Baptism. He also pursued his studies for a long time under the instruction of Stanislaus Han Jeong-heum. It is said:
"John Yu was sincere and straightforward in his devotion, and he had strong faith and ardent charity. Though he was still young he was treated like a gentle and prudent adult for his faithfulness to his duty, his upright life and his disdain for all earthly vanities."
John Yu received his First Holy Communion when he was 16 years old from Father James Zhou Wen-mo who came to the Chonam village on pastoral visitation. Afterwards John Yu opened his heart in the presence of his father and Father James Zhou and said, "I want to live as a virgin."
And then, Lutgarda Yi Sun-i asked Father James Zhou to help her to live as a virgin. Hearing her say that, Father James Zhou remembered John Yu Jung-cheol in Jeonju, who also said he wanted to live a life of celibacy, and arranged their marriage. In October 1797, John Yu, with his wife Lutgarda Yi, made a vow in the presence of his parents, to live a celibate life as brother and sister.
John Yu overcame any temptation to break his vow with his wife Lutgarda Yi by prayer and meditation. They pledged to die as martyrs together. In the meantime, the Shinyu Persecution broke out in 1801. In the spring of that year John Yu was arrested and put in prison in Jeonju.
While he was in prison, his younger brother Yu Mun-seok brought him food. He had to wear his winter clothes, even in the middle of summer, because it was forbidden to supply him with clothes. John Yu was put in a pillory day and night. The suffering in the prison was a real punishment for him. Nevertheless, with an unshakable heart, John Yu defended his faith in God to the end.
In the middle of September, other family members, including his wife Lutgarda Yi, and his younger brother Yu Mun-seok were arrested. About twenty days later, the police took Yu Mun-seok and put him in the same prison cell as his brother, John Yu. At the order of the chief official, they were hung and died martyrs. It was on November 14, 1801 (October 9, by the Lunar calendar). John Yu was 22 years old.
After John Yu`s martyrdom, his wife Lutgarda Yi, on learning that he died a martyr, wrote as follows:
"Finally, a letter came from home. In this letter, the following was written; A letter to his sister (this was what he called his wife Lutgarda) was found in John`s clothes. In the letter was written, `I exhort, encourage, and console my sister. Let us meet in Heaven."