The Catholic Defender: Saint John Leonardi
He was the youngest of seven children born to middle-class parents in Diecimo
From childhood, he sought solitude and wished to dedicate himself to prayer and meditation. At age 17, he began his ten-year study to become a certified pharmacist's assistant in Lucca. Afterward, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1572
In 1574, he founded a group charged with deepening Christian faith and devotion; this foundation was part of the wider movement of the Counter-Reformation. Leonardi worked with this group to spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and devotion to the Forty Hours, as well as spreading the message of the importance of frequent communion.
He became interested in the reforms instituted by the Council of Trent, and he proposed a new congregation of secular priests to convert sinners and to restore Church discipline.
John Leonardi was born at Diecimo, Italy. He became a pharmacist's assistant at Lucca, studied for the priesthood, and was ordained in 1572. He gathered a group of laymen about him to work in hospitals and prisons, became interested in the reforms proposed by the Council of Trent, and proposed a new congregation of secular priests. Great opposition to his proposal developed, but in 1583, his association (formally designated Clerks Regular of the Mother of God in 1621) was recognized by the bishop of Lucca with the approval of Pope Gregory XIII
“I am only one person! Why should I do anything? What good would it do?” Today, as in any age, people seem plagued with the dilemma of getting involved. In his own way, John Leonardi answered these questions. He chose to become a priest.
After his ordination, Fr. Leonardi became very active in the works of the ministry, especially in hospitals and prisons. The example and dedication of his work attracted several young laymen who began to assist him. They later became priests themselves.
John lived after the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent. He and his followers projected a new congregation of diocesan priests. For some reason the plan, which was ultimately approved, provoked great political opposition. John was exiled from his home town of Lucca, Italy, for almost the entire remainder of his life. He received encouragement and help from Saint Philip Neri, who gave him his lodgings—along with the care of his cat!
In 1579, John formed the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and published a compendium of Christian doctrine that remained in use until the 19th century.
Father Leonardi and his priests became a great power for good in Italy, and their congregation was confirmed by Pope Clement in 1595. John died at the age of 68 from a disease caught when tending those stricken by the plague.
By the deliberate policy of the founder, the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God have never had more than 15 churches, and today form only a very small congregation. The liturgical feast of Saint John Leonardi is celebrated on October 9.
He was venerated for his miracles and his religious fervor. His memory was held so high in Rome that Pope Leo XIII added his name to the Roman Martyrology, and ordered Roman clergy to celebrate his Mass and Office, an honor otherwise strictly limited to beatified popes.
Leonardi was beatified in 1861 and canonized in 1938 by Pope Pius XI. His liturgical feast is celebrated on 9 October. His relics are enshrined under an altar in the Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli in Rome.
What can one person do? The answer is plenty! In the life of each saint, one thing stands clear: God and one person are a majority! What one individual, following God’s will and plan for his or her life, can do is more than our mind could ever hope for or imagine. Each of us, like John Leonardi, has a mission to fulfill in God’s plan for the world. Each one of us is unique and has been given talent to use for the service of our brothers and sisters for the building up of God’s kingdom.