By Larry Peterson
Domenico Casanova was a ship captain, and he and his wife, Anna Maria Benza, lived in Port Maurice, a seaport near Genoa. On December 20, 1676, Anna gave birth to a son, and they named him Paul Jerome Casanova. Paul’s father was a devout Catholic and took the responsibility of teaching his four children the faith to heart, using kindly diligence to teach them. Eventually, three of his sons entered the Franciscan Order, and his daughter became a nun.
When Paul was thirteen years old, he was sent to live with his uncle, Agostino, in Rome. This was done so Paul could study at the Jesuit Roman College located there. He was a very bright student and began the study of medicine. However, one day he visited the church connected to the Franciscan monastery of St. Bonaventure in Rome. He heard the choir singing, “Converte nos Deus, salutaris noster!” (convert us, O God, our salvation)!”
These words moved Paul, and he believed they were a call from heaven above to serve God. He decided against medicine and told his uncle his intentions. His uncle would not hear of this and sent him away. Paul was undeterred, and in 1697 he managed to join the Friars Minors. On October 2, 1697, he received the habit and took the name, Brother Leonard. He went on to complete his studies at St. Bonaventure’s and was ordained a priest.
Leonard desperately wanted to go to China as a missionary and convert “pagans.” But he had health issues which included a delicate constitution and a bleeding ulcer. He was sent to the monastery of the Franciscan Observants where he remained for four years until his health returned. There was a point where they all thought Leonard would die. But it is said that the Blessed Virgin interceded, and Leonard suddenly recovered.
He returned to ministry as a local preacher in the surrounding parishes. Leonard had such burning love of Jesus and Mary, combined with deep humility, frequent acts of penance, and an unending charity to his neighbor that it came forth in his preaching, and soon, he had a reputation as one of the great preachers of the day.
Friar Leonard immersed himself in his new work as a parish missionary. He would soon be traveling all throughout Italy and Corsica preaching to the parishioners in different places. Italy was known for its lawlessness and danger, but Leonard was committed and, although often fearful of impending danger, looked it straight in the eye and moved from town to town.
Leonard’s austere life, his practice of continually doing penance and his constant prayer and innate humility, was apparent in his preaching. It was so powerful and forthright that he converted countless sinners bringing many back to and into the faith. He developed a following of missionary preachers and even had a retreat house built for them outside Florence. This was a haven for spiritual renewal, and here they could go and refresh and prepare themselves for the assignments ahead.
Back in Rome, Father Leonard founded several confraternities, including the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart. Everywhere he went, he taught people to say, “My Jesus, Mercy.” He mainly preached on Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the importance and power of the Stations of the Cross. For forty-three years he set up the Stations at 571 locations, including the Roman Colosseum. He had such love for the stations that today he is known as the Saint of the Stations of the Cross.
His most significant work might be considered his writings and preaching about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. He continually fostered devotion to the Immaculate Conception and insisted it should be proclaimed a dogma of faith. He attributed all his health and longevity to the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin. When Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma of faith in 1854, much of his decision was based upon the work and words of Leonard of Port Maurice.
Pope Benedict XIV held Father Leonard in high regard and begged him to not die in any other city but Rome. This Leonard did on November 26, 1751. He was 74 years old. St. Alphonsus Ligouri called Leonard the “great missionary of the eighteenth century.”
Numerous miracles followed his passing, and Pope Pius VI, who had known him, beatified him in 1796. Pope Pius IX canonized Leonard on June 29, 1867. Pope Pius XI named St. Leonard of Port Maurice as the patron saint of all parish missionaries.
St. Leonard of Port Maurice, please pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2019