St. Leonard , who was born in Port Maurice in Italy, joined the Franciscans when he was twenty-one, hoping to spend his life preaching the Gospel in China. In the end, his mission field did not extend beyond Italy. Nevertheless, Alphonsus Liguori called him “the great missionary of the eighteenth century.”
A gifted preacher, he conducted mission tours through Umbria, Genoa, and the Marches. Enormous crowds would turn out to hear him – so great that he would preach in the open air. Wherever he went, his preaching prompted a spiritual revival. One of his favourite “preaching aids” was the Stations of the Cross – a devotion he was largely responsible for popularizing. It is said that he established 571 Stations throughout Italy, even in the Colosseum in Rome. He also promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart and was an early advocate for defining the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
In 1744, Pope Benedict XIV sent him on a mission to Corsica – one of his less successful undertakings, as many people assumed he was an agent of the ruling doge of Genoa. Shaking the dust from his feet, he resumed his work in Italy, preaching and leading retreats. By that time, however, his energy was failing fast.
He died in Rome on November 26, 1751. He was canonized in 1867.