SAINT JOSEPH OF LEONESSA (1556-1612), priest and missionary – Patron saint of Leonessa, Italy
Today, the Church honors Saint Joseph of Leonessa, a missionary priest who spent his entire life evangelizing to the poor and suffering, never wavering from bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who were in spiritual need.
Joseph was born the third of eight children to a devout couple at Leonessa in the kingdom of Naples, Italy on January 8, 1556, and was given the name Eufranio at his Baptism. His parents died when he was only twelve years old, and he was then raised and educated by his uncle.
Eufranio was inspired by the Capuchin lifestyle which embraced prayer and sanctity; and, after overcoming family opposition, he was admitted to the Capuchin novitiate and received the habit and the name Joseph, making his profession of vows on January 8, 1573; he was subsequently ordained a priest in 1580.
The ministry to which Friar Joseph was assigned was responsible for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, and he joyfully fulfilled this ministry for the remainder of his life.
Relying solely on God’s grace and with a mission crucifix always tucked in his cincture (a rope around his waist, symbolizing chastity), Joseph negotiated the most obscure, mountainous regions of Umbria, Lazio and the Abruzzi regions in Italy in an intense and extensive mission of evangelization among those who were poor.
Later, he was assigned to Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey), where he was appointed as chaplain to some 4,000 Christian slaves who worked in the local Turkish penal colony. He immediately went to work bringing the Gospel message and charitable relief to those who were languishing in some rather inhumane conditions. Many times he offered himself as a substitute in order to obtain the release of a slave who was near death. His offer was never accepted.
When the plague broke out in the penal colonies, the Capuchins immediately took up the ministry of assisting those who were sick and dying. Although Friar Joseph became ill, he survived to remain at the mission. However, he was ultimately imprisoned for his work of evangelization to the Muslims.
Joseph sought an audience with the Sultan and asked for a decree of religious freedom. His methods led to his being condemned to death. Hung by hooks over a smoky fire for three days, it is said (as one story has it) that he was eventually cut down and released by Turkish guards. Another story tells us that he was cut down and released by an angel.
After being freed, he returned to Italy where he began a ministry of evangelization among shepherds who lacked even rudimentary knowledge of the faith, prayer and the Commandments. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell, reminding parents to send their children to catechism class.
When he became deathly ill due to cancer, Friar Joseph asked to be taken to Leonessa; and on Saturday evening, February 4, 1612, after beginning the Divine Office, and repeating his favorite prayer, “Sancta Maria, succurre miseris (Holy Mary, help of the poor)”, Friar Joseph succumbed to the effects of his illness and received his eternal reward.
Joseph was canonized a saint on June 29, 1746, by Pope Benedict XIV.
We commemorate his feastday on February 4.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, capuchins.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ missionary)
“God of Mercy, You gave us Saint Joseph of Leonessa to proclaim the riches of Christ. By the help of his prayers, may we grow in knowledge of You, be eager to do good, and learn to walk before You by living the truth of the Gospel.
“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.”