Saint of the Day – 27 November – St Leonard of Port Maurice OFM (1676-1751) – Born on 20 December 1676 at Porto Maurizio, Italy on the Riviera di Ponente as Paul Jerome Casanova and died at 11:00 pm on 26 November 1751 at the monastery of Saint Bonaventura, Rome, Italy. Franciscan Friar, Priest, Preacher – in particular Parish Mission Preacher, ascetic Writer, Spiritual Director. His Memorial is celebrated in the universal calendar, today, 27 November and by the Franciscans on 26 November. St Leonard founded many pious societies and confraternities and exerted himself to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Passion of Christ. He was among the few to insist that the concept of the Immaculate Conception of Mary be defined as a dogma of the faith.
Leonard was born in 1676 in Port Maurice, on the cost of northern Italy. His father was a ship captain. Because he was a gifted student, he was sent to Rome when he was 13 to live with his uncle while attending the Jesuits’ Roman College. His family wanted him to become a doctor but after completing his studies, Leonard decided to become a Franciscan friar. He hoped he could become a missionary to China.
After ordination, Leonard became seriously ill with a bleeding ulcer and was sent home. No one knew if he would recover. Leonard promised God that if he did get well, he would devote his life to the missions and to helping sinners change their lives. It took more than four years but Leonard regained his health and began 40 years of mission work. Surprisingly, he did not become a missionary in foreign lands. He became a missionary to the people of his own country.
Leonard travelled throughout Italy, preaching at parish missions and retreats. He would often spend two or three weeks in a parish before moving on. That gave him time to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with all who wanted to confess their sins and receive God’s forgiveness. Leonard thought this was the most important part of his ministry. It was a sign that through his preaching, the Holy Spirit had inspired people to transform their lives and begin to live as followers to Jesus. St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), called Leonard “the great missionary of the 18th century.”
Everywhere the saint made conversions and was very often obliged both in cities and country districts to preach in the open, as the churches could not contain the thousands who came to listen. Pope Clement XII and Pope Benedict XIV called him to Rome; the latter especially held him in high esteem both as a preacher and as a propagandist and exacted a promise that he would come to Rome to die. Pope Benedict XIV appointed him to several complex diplomatic assignments. In Genoa and Corsica, in Lucca and Spoleto the citizens expected a jewelled cardinal to represent the intentions of the pope. Instead, they were confronted by a humble, shoeless, muddy friar to confound their hostility and pride.
Leonard had a great devotion to the Stations of the Cross. He believed that praying the Stations would help people better understand that through His Passion and Death, Jesus showed His great love for us. By this Franciscan saint’s work, almost 600 sets of the Stations of the Cross were erected throughout Italy, most of them in the parishes where he had preached and even one at the Colosseum in Rome, which to this day are used by the Holy Father during Lent and especially on Good Friday. They were a lasting reminder to the people, of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and they encouraged people to stay close to Jesus through prayer.
St Leonard died in Rome in 1751 at the age of 75. He was Canonised in 1867 and in 1923 he was named the patron saint of parish mission preachers. His ministry reminds us that Jesus is always calling us to grow in our love for Him and our brothers and sisters. When we think about Jesus’ Death on the Cross, we can remember all people who suffer in their daily journeys. We can reach out to and pray for the hungry, the homeless, the unborn, the elderly and the neglected people of our world.