St. Joseph of Leonessa, OFMCap

St. Joseph of Leonessa, OFMCap
1556 to 1612

Saint Joseph of Leonessa ((Italian) Giuseppe da Leonessa) (1556-February 4, 1612) is a saint of the Catholic Church. He was born Eufranio Desiderio at Leonessa, a small town then in Umbria, now in the Lazio. It is said, that from his infancy, he showed a remarkably religious bent of mind; he used to erect little altars and spend much time in prayer before them, and often he would gather his companions and induce them to pray with him.

Whilst yet a boy he used to take the discipline on Fridays in company with the confraternity of St. Saviour. His uncle, who had planned a suitable marriage for him, educated him but in his sixteenth year he fell sick of a fever, and on his recovery, without consulting his relative, he joined the Capuchin reform of the Franciscan Order. He made his novitiate in the convent of the Carcerelle near Assisi.

As a religious, he was remarkable for his great abstinence. "Brother Ass," he would say to his body, "there is no need to feed thee as a noble horse would be fed; thou must be content to be a poor ass." In 1599, the year before his Jubilee year, he fasted the whole year by way of preparation for gaining the indulgence.

In 1587, the Superior General of his order sent him to Constantinople to minister to the Christians held captive there. Arrived there he and his companions lodged in a derelict house of Benedictine monks. The poverty in which the friars lived attracted the attention of the Turks, who went in numbers to see the new missionaries. He was very solicitous in ministering to the captive Christians in the galleys. Every day he went into the city to preach. He was at length thrown into prison and only released at the intervention of the Venetian agent.

Urged on by zeal, he at last sought to enter the palace to preach before Sultan Murad III, but he was seized and condemned to death. For three days, he hung on the gallows, held up by two hooks driven through his right hand and foot; his legends states that he was then miraculously released by an angel.

Returning to Italy, he took with him a Greek archbishop who had apostatized, and who was reconciled to the Church on their arrival in Rome. Joseph now took up the work of home missions in his native province, sometimes preaching six or seven times a day. In the Jubilee year of 1600, he preached the Lent at Otricoli, a town through which crowds of pilgrims passed on their way to Rome. Many of them being very poor, Joseph supplied them with food; he also washed their clothes and cut their hair. At Todi, he cultivated with his own hands a garden, the produce of which was for the poor.

He died at Amatrice.

His feast is kept on February 4th throughout the Franciscan Order. He was canonized by Benedict XIV. In his natal town, there is a church and sanctuary of San Giuseppe da Leonessa. The main street is called the Corso San Giuseppe, after him. His cult is mostly local to central Italy; churches at Otricoli and San Lorenzo Nuovo contain paintings of him.