St. Leonard of Port Maurice:
The Author and His Book
St. Leonard was born in 1676 at Port Maurice, a seaport near Genoa, the son of Dominic Casanova, a ship captain. Two brothers and a sister, besides himself, entered the Franciscan Order.
When thirteen years old, he went to the renowned Roman college where St. Aloysius once pursued his studies. There he so distinguished himself with piety, diligence, and good works that he was called another Aloysius. On completing his studies, he contemplated entering the medical profession, but during a visit to the Franciscan convent of St. Bonaventure in Rome, he received his call to the priesthood. He entered the Order on October 2, 1697 and soon became the glory of his convent. His exact observance of the rule was admirable; likewise were his fervor at prayer, his burning love of Jesus and Mary, his rigorous penance, his humility, and his tireless charity toward his neighbor.
Ardently he desired to preach the Gospel in China, but his delicate constitution for a while prevented even his preaching at home. Consumption seemed to have claimed him, but at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, he was miraculously restored to health. He then devoted himself with renewed zeal to parish missions, and during twenty-four years he covered every section of Italy and the island of Corsica, which latter was notorious for lawless inhabitants. He scourged himself without compassion to obtain mercy for his sins and those of others, and the power of his words made a deep impression because of the austerity of his life. Thus he was able to convert innumerable sinners.
He caused to be built a retreat house for missionaries at Incontro near Florence, where preachers could withdraw a time in order to prepare themselves through a life of seclusion and penance for future activities. In Rome he founded several pious confraternities, most notably that of the Sacred Heart, whose compassion he taught the people to request with the little ejaculation: “My Jesus, mercy!” Wherever he went, he spread devotion to the Way of the Cross and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He fostered also devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin by way of a pious obligation of gratitude, since he attributed to her mediation all the good he had ever received or done in his life.
Returning to Rome from a mission in Bologna, St. Leonard died in the convent of St. Bonaventure on November 26, 1751. God glorified him with miracles in his life, but more so after his death. Pope Pius VI, who had known him personally, beatified him in 1796; Pope Pius IX canonized him June 29, 1867. Pope Pius XI appointed him Patron of all missionaries. His Feast is celebrated in the Church calendar on November 26.
The present work, suffused with saintly unction, is itself a rare “treasure,” and one, let us hope, that will never be “hidden” to the world, but known and studied and applied universally by Catholics everywhere. When a Saint writes, one truly senses this fact from the penetration of the words and the fervor of the admonition. And for this alone The Hidden Treasure is most worthy of the contemporary reader’s meditative consideration. But, returning to print as it does, during this time of great change in the Church, it should serve both as a guide to priests and bishops in charge of liturgical reform and as a sober reminder to all of the great inspiring power of the ancient Latin Mass. Through St. Leonard’s intercession and by the persuasive power of The Hidden Treasure, may those in charge of liturgical revisions keep ever in mind the inner nature and devotional power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And may Holy Mother the Church ever continue to offer Mass in the ancient Latin rite that has come down to us from the earliest centuries in virtually its present form.
Thomas A. Nelson, 1970