Saint Leonardo Murialdo

Founded the Congregation of St. Joseph

 (1828 - 1900)

Memorial : 30 March
   18 May ( Salesians )

St. Leonard Murialdo was born in Turin (Italy) on 26 October, 1828 son of Leonard and Theresa Rho. Before him six sisters were born: Olympia, Aurelia, Dionisia, Emily, Clementine (who died at a very tender age), Domitilla and his brother Ernest. In 1830 the last sister was to born: Delfina.

The following day, in St. Dalmazzo Parish Church, the Lord “granted him innocence and adopted him as son through holy baptism”.

Being gifted with “a mind inclined to the virtue and...with a certain sensitivity in favour of piety”, Leonard was serenely growing into a family “that was well respected and well-off”, but first of all it was rich in faith and affection.

On 15 June, 1833, aged 57, his father died; he was “Practicing Catholic”, "a honest stockbroker".

This job, discreet and profitable, consisted of currency exchange in at Turin, in checking officially the value of goods and precious metals and in giving legal validity to purchases and sales. The father, dying, bequeathed real estate and personal property that, in our present values, correspond to several millions of Italian lire.

In school at Savona
In 1836 ,wishing to give a sound education and formation to her son, and because also of  his “frail health”, the mother “resigned herself” to send him with his brother, Ernest, to the Royal catholic School in Savona, little town situated by the sea and the place of a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy.

Before their leaving, the mother entrusted the two sons to the protection of Our Lady of Consolation, venerated by people of Turin with special devotion.

The two brothers arrived at Savona on 27 October, in the evening, after a journey by coach lasting two days.

Running the School were the Religious “Scolopi”, known as such because of their membership of the “Clerics of the Scuole Pie” Order, founded by St. Joseph Calasanz. They were highly thought of and appreciated by the people and by the civil authorities as well for their cultural and educational standards.

That boarding-school was where pupils of noble families went, coming from Liguria, Piedmont and Sardinia, and it was well known for its educational and teaching methods and for the importance given to history and science study, beside Italian and Latin literature.

Leonard, endowed with "intelligence not too much above average, but enough for a good result" in his studies, ended two years of primary school with a good performance (1836-1838) and in the following courses of secondary school  as well (1838-1843) : two courses of grammar, two courses of humanities and only one (of the two years) of rhetoric or public speaking.

 Among his educators, St. Leonard Murialdo remembered Fr. Atanasio Canata especially and Fr. John Solari, priests “gifted in piety”. who had to carry on the function of "spiritual directors" (this task consists in helping the boys in their journey towards a Christian life).

 The period spent in Savona’s boarding school  had a lasting influence over his religious, cultural, civil and social formation.

During the seventh year of staying in the school (1842-1843) because of a “bad company” and “his human respect”, St. Leonard Murialdo felt into a psychological and moral crisis which drew him into leading a life “marked...by numberless sins” and, as a consequence, into the weakening of his spiritual life and study and a light worsening his behaviour which until then had been exemplary.

St. Leonard Murialdo writes: “ In Savona I met health of the body, but, alas, what unhappy and horrible wreck for my soul! What a deep abyss I collapsed into, and in so short a time!”.

Return to Turin

  At the beginning of September, 1843, Leonard, with his brother Ernest, returned to Turin, even though the second year of rhetoric was still necessary for him to complete the senior high-school.

Wishing not to make his moral situation worse, as probably would have happened “if Murialdo had stayed one year more” in Savona, he chose to leave the school before time.

 This decision demanded from Murialdo a “very large sacrifice of self-respect” being in the “hope and... near certainty of being appointed one of the Academy Princes”, having won very good results in the school.

 This appointment allowed the awarded students to have “a life-size portrait”, that was hung up then in the gallery of the school “for the admiration” of the visitors.

    On his return to Turin, his mother “did not delay sending him" to the Abbot Maximus Pullini, a “holy priest”, who was carrying on pastoral work at Saint Dalmazzo parish, and to him Leonard made “a general confession” of all his past life, finding in this way a peace and serenity of heart. It is the moment of his “conversion” and of the first personal and heartfelt discovery of the merciful God.

 With the Abbot Pullini Murialdo, made his first confession, receiving as a gift “for the first time purity and peace of heart”.

On 3rd November, 1843, “having found the way not to have to take the second year of rhetoric”, Murialdo started the two-year period of philosophy study, a course which allowed him to join the university. Among the optional subjects he chose “ancient history so he could avoid bad companions”.

Priestly calling

    In the Spring of 1844, having listened to a sermon about hell, preached during Lent in his parish church by Capuchin friar, Vincent Oliva, Leonard decided to consecrate himself to the Lord. On this occasion, the Lord made him “to feel for the first time his call to religious life”. He had thought “to become a Capuchin friar”. In this way, in the convent life, “far away from the world” he could avoid the danger of human respect, toward which he felt a certain “weakness”. Canon Lawrence Renaldi, friend of Murialdo family, “dissuaded” him and “suggested to him” to take up the priestly life.

In fact, as soon as he had finished the two-year philosophy course (1843-1845), on the feast-day of St. Leonard, 6th November, 1845, St. Leonard Murialdo “had the joy and honour of being dressed in the cassock blessed by the Abbot Pullini, in Saint Clare’s church, annexed to Visitation sisters convent, of which the abbot was spiritual director”.

Talking about his calling St. Leonard Murialdo wrote that “he never had a thought" to become a priest; on the contrary when a young boy, he wished to take up the military career; in Savona he planned to study civil law and during the philosophy course he was orientated towards the engineering profession.

 In the school and in the family, instead, many people thought that his brother Ernest, “wise and pious” would have taken up the priestly life.

And yet Murialdo wrote: “God has chosen me! He called me, even he forced on me the honour, glory and inexpressible happiness of being his minister, another Christ, after God, an earthly God”.

Perhaps in this period of Leonard’s life happened the mysterious episode of which Murialdo talked in the Testament: the fear of loosing his mind.

The cause of this sorrowful situation could have been the ascetic formation given to the young seminarian, centralised first of all on the themes of sin and hell. This spiritual climate, united to his call to responsibility, increased in the young Leonard the sense of guilt for the sins committed during his stay in the Savona school, and it caused a severe psychological tension in him in the shape of anxiety and anguish, such that “the fear of going mad” grasped him.

Appealing to the Virgin of Loreto, venerated in a chapel of St. Dalmazzo parish church, he was made free of  this “very heavy cross”.

Journeying towards priesthood

On the same day of taking the habit, St. Leonard Murialdo started Theology courses, a period of study lasting five years (1845-1850) at the Royal University in Turin.

He went on living at home, according to a custom, due to the fact that the seminary could not give accommodation to all the young people who were on the way to priesthood. These clerics, called “day-students”, were gathered in associations and led by a priest for their spiritual and pastoral formation, while, for the academic work, each seminarian had to choose among the faculty board two lecturers called “tutors”, who would accompany them on his studies. St. Leonard Murialdo chose the theologians August Berta and Peter Baricco.

About his studies at University, Murialdo “had the fortune” to be able to study two new disciplines, that had just been added in the academic year 1845-1846 to the curriculum: Theological Institutions was the first, and Biblical Institutions the second, which now  more or less correspond to Basic Theology and Introduction to Sacred Scripture. Teachers were respectively Canon Charles Savio and Theologian Casimiro Banaudi.

On 8th May, 1850, at the end of an academic course rewarded with the best results, St. Leonard Murialdo took disputation in Theology in the presence of the Minister of Education, Christopher Mameli.

Since that moment, following to the local custom, he was called “theologian”.


    At the end of theology courses, on the 21st September, 1850, St. Leonard Murialdo was ordained into “subdeacon” on the 5th April, 1851, then deacon and on the 20th September of the same year, priest.

The above ordinations, presided over by Mons. John Ceretti took place in the chapel of the “Mission Priests” house, near the Church of Visitation.

    Those priests were called “Lazzaristi”, a name coming from St. Lazarus church in Paris, attached to the building in which St. Vincent de Paul founded his congregation.

On September the 21st, the feast of St Matthew the Apostle, towards whom St. Leonard Murialdo would nourish, all his life long, “a certain...devotion”, “he had the glory and joy of celebrating the first Mass” in the parish church of St. Dalmazzo, helped by the abbot Maximus Pullini and canon Lawrence Renaldi. St. Leonard Murialdo wrote: “Ah! How happy I was!” On that day, happiness also came from the fact the Lord made him “enjoy the peace of a consecrated soul”.

But among the relatives “who formed a circle around him, his mother was not there. She went to heaven on the 9th July, 1849", at the age of 54. “A very pious mother, exemplary, beloved, an angel”: so St. Leonard Murialdo describes her, remembering that she was “very fond of her sons, especially of him, when he embraced the priestly life”.

Before ordination, St. Leonard  Murialdo received the sacrament of reconciliation in a new “general confession” in which he “confessed the desertion of God” he had willed during his school days in Savona. The confessor, Fr. Marcantonio Durando, who had led him during the spiritual retreat in preparation to the ordination, expressed a severe moral judgement on that period of his life.

First apostolic commitments

    As a newly ordained priest, St. Leonard Murialdo tried to improve his spiritual, pastoral and cultural formation by attending the meetings of some associations for priests and, at the same time, by engaging himself actively in pastoral activities.

Through Fr. Robert Murialdo, his cousin, St. Leonard Murialdo took part in numerous activities in favour of abandoned youth of the Turin suburbs, chimney-sweepers, prisoners.

 Then he committed himself as catechist and assistant priest at the Oratory of the Guardian Angels and, on St. John Bosco’s  request, he accepted, in 1857, the direction of St. Louis Oratory where he started several activities aimed at the Christian and human education or formation of  poor young boys. At the same time he was very busy as catechist and preacher at many educational institutions of the city.

At St. Sulpice seminary in Paris

 On the 28th September, 1865, St. Leonard Murialdo left Turin for Paris, wanting to spend a whole academic year at the seminary of St Sulpice, being attracted by the desire to study theology more carefully, especially moral theology and canon law, and to explore the social and educational Catholic institutions of France.

At this seminary, ran by the members of Saint Sulpice Company, commonly called “Sulpicians”, he met ideal educators and a climate that enriched his priestly life.

 As his spiritual director and confessor, he chose the Superior of the seminary, Father Henry Icard, a Canon Law teacher, a well educated and very spiritual man. A brotherly friendship was established between the two priests, and it would continue later on, too, so that St. Leonard Murialdo will apply to Fr. Icard, when planning to found the congregation.

During his stay in the seminary, Murialdo wanted "to become a Sulpician", but Fr. Icard dissuaded him.

Rector of the "Collegio Artigianelli"

At the beginning of October, 1866 St. Leonard Murialdo went back to Turin.

Among the various apostolic responsibilities proposed to him, he accepted to be appointed as Rector of the “Collegio Artigianelli (young craftsmen)”, an institution opened in 1849 by Fr. John Cocchi with the aim of giving assistance, Christian education and vocational training to  poor boys, orphans and  abandoned children.

Accepting this appointment Murialdo had to say a heroic “yes”. In fact, the organisation, management and educational difficulties of the institution, and above all the total change of life that was requested of him humanly worked against a positive answer to that proposal.

St. Leonard Murialdo, instead, saw in it the will of God, and, accepting the appointment, he spent 34 years of his life as man, as a priest and as an apostle in a situation not comfortable to his character, his formation and sensitivity and among boys; as himself said, rich in “ignorance, rudeness and vices”. In spite of this, he devoted himself, with all his strength and with a style rich in mercy to their Christian education, improving the educational methods and developing the teaching and vocational training organisations.

Fr. Reffo, the first of biographers, who lived with him for 34 years, wrote: “For the “Artigianelli”, St. Leonard Murialdo sacrificed himself until his death. He devoted himself totally and worked tirelessly for 34 years, for the maintenance and Christian education of its young people. He loved them very much and for their needs he did not hold back anything, neither money, nor time, nor health. He led an exhausting life, without rest, becoming the servant of all. Heartened by Christ’s charity, he had special care for the poorest boys, both for their bodies and their spirits. 

Of all the education methods, then, Murialdo wanted to adopt the one of kindness. He treated all the boys in the same way. He was gentle in his manners... The rudeness and ungratefulness, with which sometime he was repaid, never made him deviate from his behaviour: such gentleness was in him a commitment taken on and a meritorious exercise of virtue... His appearance, both serious and austere, was always softened by a pleasant smile which invited to confidence and love... Anyone who had to deal with him was seized by his gentleness...”. 

Founder of the Congregation of St. Joseph

After long prayers and the advice of his confessor, theologian William Blengio, Fr. Henry Icard, the bishops of Turin, Alexander Riccardi and then Lawrence Gastaldi, and Eugene Galletti, bishop of the diocese of Alba, and with some collaborators, especially Fr. Eugene Reffo, Murialdo founded the Congregation of St. Joseph on 19th March, 1873, at Artigianelli, with the aim of maintaining the Christian education of poor youths.

This foundation was the conclusion of St. Leonard Murialdo’s long interior debate because of  his spiritual sensitiveness as he tried to discern the will of God for him.

Certainly it was not among Murialdo plans “to found Congregation” and above all to become a religious, a calling towards which he felt himself “reluctant”. He writes in the Testament: “I never thought of and never imagined myself to become a religious one day. Because of my inclination to freedom I had a certain aversion to religious life. However the good Lord has done it”; and with a changed mind he exclaims: “...here I am, thanks to God, thanks to the good Lord, here I am a religious, three times bound to God” by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Besides the heavy task of the rector-ship of the Collegio Artigianelli, St. Leonard Murialdo added yet another one, no less demanding, of as the founder and superior of the Congregation, with all the problems that this appointment involved: legislative codification, institutional organisation and development, relationships with confreres and opening new houses, 17 in his life time.

Social activity

 As a continuation of his ministry Murialdo interested himself in the social question and took part, with a strong apostolic mission, in the catholic workers movement. In 1871, indeed, he helped to give birth to and shared the activities of the Catholic Workers Union, in which he became a member of the organising committee and the chaplain or vice-assistant until 1891. He was among the first in Piedmont to promote the Congress Organisation, that is the organization of Italian Catholics, founded in 1875. It was part of the Catholic response, in Italy, to the social question. From 1872 to 1891, Murialdo was present at several Catholic congresses in Italy and in France.

Among the activities to which he devoted himself a privileged place of is due to the Catholic press. He took part, in fact, in the birth of the monthly: “The Voice of the Worker”, (1876), and was the initiator and main leader of the “Association for the good books and journals” (1883), that promoted many small popular libraries that circulated educational and religious publications.

Murialdo had a very active life, considering all his other commitments in the “Collegio Artigianelli” and in the Congregation as well.

Holy death

During his rector-ship St. Leonard Murialdo worked out an idea put forward first by Monsignor Peter Joseph Berizzi, his immediate predecessor of Artigianelli College, of founding a religious congregation, so that its members would continue to take care of the poor youth.

All this work, laden with worries and commitments, undermined Murialdo’s health.

After 57 years spent in good health, in 1885, he was struck by a serious bronchitis. It lasted from the 1st January to the 17th February and it was so serious that “finding himself in danger” asked that the Theo. William Blengio should be called (he was Murialdo’s confessor from 1866 to 1895) with whom he made “his confession as though it should be the last one”.

 This illness was the first out of several, some of which were so “dangerous” that they forced him to reduce notably his activity in the social field.

Murialdo knew how to accept his sicknesses as a “benefit” from God, because they allowed him to think seriously about eternity and so to prepare himself with faith to see the Lord.

Beside the physical suffering, many moral crosses also weighed on his shoulders and he accepted them with confident trust in God.

One of the heaviest was the burden of debt inherited from the Artigianelli’ institution ; this harassed him for 32 years, till 1899, and forced him, as Fr. Reffo writes, to lead an “unhappy and uncomfortable life”.

In the Testament, St. Leonard Murialdo remembers also another suffering, his "loneliness" due to the death of all his relatives ( the last two, his sister Aurelia and his brother Ernest died in 1890). He accepted and lived this experience with deep sorrow.

The tomb of St. Leonard Murialdo in Turin

Pope Paul VI proclaimed him “Saint” on 3rd May, 1970, pointing him out to Catholics as a “companion and model in the earthly pilgrimage” for his exemplary life as religious and priest and for his generous devotion to the needy young people.

On the 30th March, 1900, after a new attack of bronchitis, with peaceful trust in the Father’s mercy - “I’m waiting” he said in his death bed -, Murialdo ended his earthly journey in his bedroom of the Artigianelli, surrounded by the confreres and young people.

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