Our Parish Patron Saint: St. Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751)
Paulo Girolamo Casanova was born at Port Maurice on the Italian Riviera on December 20, 1676. His father was a mariner. As a teenager, he was sent to the Jesuit College in Rome to study philosophy and literature. During this time, he became aware of his religious vocation and was drawn to the austerity of the Franciscan Order. At this time he was living with a wealthy uncle who wanted him to become a physician. He objected to this vocation and turned him out of the house. Paulo (St. Leonard) managed to find another relative to live with.
When he joined the Franciscan novitiate, he took the name Leonard. He was ordained a priest in 1702. In 1709 he was sent to a monastery in Florence to bring about reform and rededication to a life of poverty. He was successful and the community grew and became an important religious center. He was increasingly invited to preach in surrounding areas. In 1736, he was sent to Rome, which became his final center of ministry. While he was the superior of the San Bonaventura community in Rome, he preached with good results to soldiers, sailors, convicts and galley slaves. He was sent out on preaching missions which often attracted such huge crowds that he had to move out of the town’s church and preach in the open air. One of his favorite “preaching aids” was the Stations of the Cross. That devotion’s spread and abiding popularity are due largely to him.
In 1744, Pope Benedict XIV sent him to the Island of Corsica where religion was neglected and civil order in general had broken down. This was a mission impossible! He was regarded by many of the Corsicans as an agent of the rulers in Genoa, whom they despised. He was received with hostility. Men often would come to his preaching missions with their guns. The fatigue, intrigues and constant need to be vigilant began to affect his health. At the end of six months, he was so ill that a ship was sent from Genoa to take him home. He returned to Rome and continued his work of preaching there.
In the jubilee year of 1750, with the Pope’s approval, he set up the Stations of the Cross in the Coliseum. He continued his preaching missions. Because of his success, the pope sent him off to other areas of Italy. Again, he was met with hostility or indifference in some areas and these later missions were largely unsuccessful. In November of 1751, he set out in a carriage to return to Rome. The carriage broke down in Spoleto. So he continued on foot to Rome – as the crow flies, a 60-mile journey. He arrived at his monastery of San Bonaventura on November 26, fatigued and sick. He was carried to bed and received the Last Rites. An affectionate message arrived at 9:00 p.m. from the Pope. By midnight, he was dead. His legacy was to spread the devotion of the Stations of the Cross, which had become widely popular because of his preaching.