Our Patron Saint: St. John Leonardi
After ordination to the priesthood, John Leonardi (1541-1609) gathered a group of laymen to assist him in the care of the sick and to work for the spiritual good of prisoners. Motivated by reforms of the Council of Trent he founded a society of diocesan priests in 1574 to carry out the mandated renewal of the council. The young men who had been assisting him all became priests. The society was later approved as the Clerics Regular of the Mother of God.
St. John Leonardi was also a preacher of renewal and prompted the religious instruction of the young. In a letter to Pope Paul V he wrote: Nothing should be untried that can train children from early childhood in good morals and in the earnest practice of Christianity. To the end nothing is more effective than pious instructions to the Christian doctrine. Children should be entrusted only to good and God-fearing teachers.
He co-founded a society of priests dedicated to working in foreign missions, which later became the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. St. John Leonardi was also requested by Pope Clement the VII in the renewal and reform of several religious communities.
His letter to Pope Paul V expressed a desire for genuine reform and spiritual renewal in the Church. He wrote that: “Reform must begin with high and low alike, with superiors and inferiors. Yet the reformers must look first to those who are set over the rest, so that reform can begin at the point from which it may spread to others.”
Then he boldly says that it must begin “with cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and priests” who have a particular responsibility to be guides.” Those who want to work for moral reform in the world must seek the glory of God before all else. Because He is the source of all good, they must await for His help and pray for it in this difficult and necessary undertaking. They must then present themselves to those they seek to reform, as mirrors of every virtue and as lamps on a lamp stand. Their upright lives and noble conduct must shine before all those who are in the house of God. In this way they will gently entice the members to reform instead of forcing them, lest, in the words of the Council of Trent, they demand of the body what I nor found in the head, and thus upset the whole order of the Lord’s household.” (Letter to Pope Paul V)
The church has always known the truth of the remark made by Bernard Shaw: ” The best reformers the world has ever seen are those who commence on themselves.” It is an on-going need in the Church and God has always raised up prophets in time of need. We honor St. John Leonardi as one of those prophets.
St. John Leonardi died in 1609 in Rome after contracting the plague from those in whom he ministered and he was canonized in 1938.