On November 26, Franciscans around the world honor the memory of Saint Leonard of Port Maurice (1676–1751), famous preacher of parish missions.
Leonard was born in the town of Porto Maurizio on the Italian Riviera, then in the Republic of Genoa, where his father was a ship captain. At age 13, he was sent to live with an uncle in Rome where he attended the Jesuit college and the Gregorian University to prepare himself for a career in medicine. He discerned a religious vocation, however, and entered the Reformed Friars Minor of the Strict Observance in Rome in 1697.
The small Church of San Bonaventura on the Palatine Hill in Rome is where Leonard entered the Order and where he died.
The interior of the Church of St. Bonaventure whose intimate venue makes it a popular venue for Roman weddings.
When he was ordained in 1703, he hoped to spend his life preaching the Gospel in China, but was turned down due to his frail health. He then devoted his life to the ministry of evangelization in his homeland.
The Church of San Salvatore all Monte in Florence was Saint Leonard’s home for the first decades of his ministry.
For 40 years Leonard tirelessly preached parish missions, Lenten sermons, and retreats throughout Italy to draw people to a life of true conversion. For the first decades of his ministry, he was based in Florence, preaching throughout Tuscany, but after 1736 he was stationed in Rome, although he branched out from there for tours in other regions.
This painting depicts Saint Leonard preaching in the Piazza Navona in Rome.
Enormous crowds would turn out to hear him, leading St. Alphonsus Liguori to call him “the great missionary of the (18th) century.” Throughout his preaching, Leonard promoted devotion to the Way of the Cross; he erected over 500 sets of “Stations” throughout Italy, most famously those in the Roman Coliseum. He also promoted perpetual adoration of the Eucharist. Exhausted by his long labors, he died in the friary where he had entered the Order, San Bonaventura on the Palatine Hill in Rome, in 1751.
Leonard left many writings: sermons, letters, and devotional treatise. He was beatified in 1796 and was canonized in 1867. Pius XI declared him the patron of all those preaching parish missions. Since 1996, his remains rest in the cathedral of his home town, Porto Maurizio (now part of the city of Imperia).
Saint Leonard’s devotional treatise on the Mass, "The Hidden Treasure," is available online.
In a hundred places in Holy Scripture, God tells us that it is truly his desire to save all people. “Is it my will that a sinner should die, and not that he should be converted from his ways and live? . . .I live, says the Lord God. I desire not the death of the sinner. Be converted and live.” When someone wants something very much, it is said that he is dying with desire; this is a hyperbole. But God has wanted and still wants our salvation so much that he died of desire: he suffered death to give us life. This will to save all people is therefore not an affected and superficial will in God; it is a real, effective, and beneficial will; for God provides each of us with all the means most proper for us to be saved.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.