St. Leonard – Our Patron Saint

(Excerpted from Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, North End Boston, MA)


Pope Benedict XIV held Father Leonard in high esteem. The pope secured the promise from him not to die in any other city but Rome, and Father Leonard kept his promise. Returning to Rome from a mission in Bologna, he died in the convent of St. Bonaventure, November 26, 1751. God glorified him in life but still more after his death by numerous miracles. Pope Pius VI, who had known him personally, beatified him in 1796, and Pope Pius IX canonized him June 29, 1867. Pope Pius XI appointed him patron of all parish missionaries.

In Rome he founded several pious confraternities, especially that of the Sacred Heart. He taught the people frequently to say the little ejaculation: “My Jesus, mercy!” Wherever he went, he spread the devotion of the Way of the Cross and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He established the Way of the Cross in over 500 places, including the Coliseum in Rome. In a special manner he also fostered devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; and to the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin he attributed all the good he had ever received or done in his life.

He now devoted himself with renewed zeal to parish missions. Amid great hardships and dangers, he spent twenty-four years as a missionary, covering every section of Italy and the island of Corsica, which was then notorious for lawless inhabitants. The power of his words made a deep impression because of his strict life; and he converted innumerable sinners. Meanwhile he did not forget himself. For his benefit and that of his brothers engaged in preaching missions, he built a retreat house at Incontro near Florence, where the missionaries could withdraw for a time in order to prepare themselves for future activities by a life of seclusion and penance. During his sojourns there, he scourged his body without compassion in order to obtain mercy for himself and for poor sinners. Then he wrote down his well-known resolutions, which he kept until his death.

On October 2, 1697, his request for the holy habit was granted, and eventually he became the glory of the friary of St. Bonaventure. His exact observance of the rule was admirable; likewise his fervor at prayer, his burning love of Jesus and Mary, his rigorous penance, his humility, and his tireless charity toward his neighbor. It was his ardent desire to preach the Gospel to the pagans in China and to shed his blood for the Faith. But his delicate constitution for a while even prevented him from preaching. Consumption seemed to have claimed him as a victim; but, at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, he was miraculously restored to health.

When Leonard was thirteen years old, he went to Rome to enter the renowned Roman college where St. Aloysius once pursued his studies. There he so distinguished himself by piety, diligence, and good works that he was called another Aloysius. After completing his college studies he thought of entering the medical profession. But he soon perceived that God was calling him to another state of life. He happened to visit the church connected with the Franciscan convent of St. Bonaventure in Rome when the choir intoned the verse at Compline, “Converte nos Deus, salutaris noster!” – “Convert us, O God, our salvation!” The young man was strangely impressed by these words and took them as a call from heaven to enter the order and devote himself to God’s service.

Leonard was born 20 December, 1676 at Port Maurice, a seaport near Genoa, the son of Dominic Casanova, a ship captain, and was named Paul Jerome Casanova. Dominic raised his children with so much care that three of his sons entered the Franciscan Order, and his only daughter took the veil.