Saint John Leonardi

Feast Day : October 9

Saint John Leonardi (Italian: Santo Giovanni Leonardi; 1541 – October 9, 1609) was founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca. He was born in the City-state of Lucca, Tuscany, in the year 1541. 

"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.

He was ordained as a priest in 1572. After his ordination, he 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 (1545-63). 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 St. 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. He 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.

In 1574, he founded a community charged to deepen faith and devotion; this foundation occurred as part of the movement known as the Counter-Reformation. John Leonardi worked with this community to spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, devotion to the Forty Hours, and frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist.

This foundation received approval from Pope Paul V in 1614. John Leonardi took his work to Rome where he became friends with Philip Neri. Neri held him in high regard for his qualities of firmness and judgment and entrusted him to delicate works, such as the reform of the Benedictine congregation of Montevergine.

John then founded with J. Vivès the seminary of the Propagation of the Faith. He died in 1609, dedicating himself to his brothers suffering from the influenza epidemic that was raging in Rome at the time.

The final Rule of his community was published in 1851. Two houses of the Clerks of the Mother of God were opened when he died, three others were opened during the seventeenth century. John was beatified in 1861 and canonized in 1938. St John Leonardi's feast day is celebrated on October 9.


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