SAINT JOHN LEONARDI (1541-1609), priest and founder – Patron saint of pharmacists
Today, the Church honors Saint John (Giovanni) Leonardi, renowned for his great missionary zeal and founder of the Order of Clerks Regular of the Mother of God, and also founded what later became known as the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
John was born in 1541 in Diecimo, in the province of Lucca, Italy. The youngest of seven siblings, he was raised in an industrious family who ensured that he was well-formed in his faith. At the age of seventeen, John’s father enrolled him in a pharmaceutical course in his home town, for the purpose of training him to become a future pharmacist, or an apothecary as they were then called.
For almost a decade, John was diligent in following his father’s wishes. However, there came a point in his young life when, after being offered the opportunity of opening his own apothecary store, he began to reflect upon another calling which he felt deep within his soul – a calling to the holy priesthood.
He left the apothecary business and entered into studies of theology in formation for the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He was ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany in 1572. Father Leonardi utilized his knowledge of pharmaceuticals as a means of focusing his vocation on transmitting to men and woman the importance of living a holy life through the “medicine of God” – who is Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen.
Inspired by the conviction that all human beings, more than anything else, need such medicine, Father Leonardi tried to make, for those to whom he preached, the personal encounter with Jesus Christ the fundamental reason of their existence. He was often quoted as saying that it was necessary to “start anew from Christ.”
Father Leonardi dedicated himself with enthusiasm to an apostolate of reaching out to young people. Gathering around himself a group of young priests, on September 1, 1574, he founded the Congregation of Reformed Priests of the Blessed Virgin, later renamed the Order of Clerks Regular of the Mother of God. Father Leonardi and his priests became a great power for good in Italy, and their congregation was confirmed by Pope Clement VIII in 1595.
He recommended to his disciples to have “before the mind’s eye only the honor, service and glory of Christ Jesus Crucified”, and, like a good pharmacist who was accustomed to giving out potions according to careful measurements, he would add, “Raise your hearts to God a bit more and measure things with Him.”
Father Leonardi is also associated with the founding of the first society of priests dedicated to working in foreign missions, “Propaganda Fidei”, which, after the passage of time and under subsequent popes, grew into what we know today as the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
Father John Leonardi died in Rome on October 8, 1609, at the age of 68 from a disease which he acquired while tending those stricken by the plague. He was canonized a saint on April 17, 1938 by Pope Pius XI. The remains of Saint John Leonardi are interred at the Santa Maria in Portico, a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Piazza di Campitelli in Rome, Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on October 9.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and zenit.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint John Leonardi)
“Father, Giver of all good things, You proclaimed the Good News to countless people through the ministry of Saint John Leonardi. By the help of his prayers, may the true faith continue to grow.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”