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Catholic Heroes… St. Leonardo Murialdo

March 29, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In the early nineteenth century a devout Catholic family lived in Turin, Italy. The father, Leonardo Murialdo, had married Theresa Rho, and together they had nine children. Olympia, Aurelia, Dionisia, Emily, Clementine (who died as an infant), Domitilla, and Ernest were all born before the future saint Leonardo was born. Two years after his birth, Delfina came along.
On October 27, 1828, Leonardo and Theresa took their baby Leonardo to San Dalmazzo Catholic Church for his Baptism, the day after his birth. Leonardo was a wealthy and highly respected financier, but the wealth meant little to him compared to the faith he and his wife treasured so dearly. Their piety and generosity filled their home with peace and great virtue.
As in the lives of many saints, Leonardo’s father died young, leaving Leonardo fatherless at the tender age of five. The family could still live comfortably as his father had managed his affairs well, providing them with an estate worth several million lire in today’s value.
When Leonardo was eight, his mother decided to send both him and his brother Ernest to Savona to attend the Royal Catholic School by the sea. They would also be near to the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy. Their bittersweet farewell included their mother entrusting their welfare into the hands of Our Lady of Consolation, whom the people of Turin specially venerated.
The boys climbed into their coach, arriving two days later on October 27. The boarding school was run by a religious order founded by St. Joseph Calasanz, the Clerics of the Scuole Pie Order. Since its cultural and scholastic standards were highly regarded, children of noble families traveled from as far away as Sardinia to attend it.
Among the subjects taught with modern teaching methods were Latin and Italian literature, grammar, rhetoric, and the humanities. Leonardo, though not especially gifted, applied himself diligently and received good grades in both his primary and secondary school studies.
More important, Leonardo, led by such mentors as Fr. Atanasio Conata and Fr. John Solari, developed a firm and pious foundation of spirituality. His formation in this school brought him to a clear understanding of his religious, cultural, social, and civil responsibilities.
Despite this good beginning, Leonardo faced many obstacles. His superiors were shocked that he fell into temptations. All people must be careful of the company they keep for the good of their souls, but Leonardo became careless in this regard as he allowed himself to be led astray.
During the 1842-1843 school year, he reached a crisis in his life. His exemplary behavior changed to sinful indulgences and problems in his classes. Morally and psychologically he was in a pit: “What a deep abyss I collapsed into, and in so short a time.”
With one more year left to finish his education, Leonardo returned to Turin in September 1843. This was no small sacrifice as he forfeited all honors he would have received for his high grades. Nevertheless, he was more concerned with his soul than with those paltry worldly honors.
Likewise his mother worried about her son’s spiritual welfare and sent him to make a general Confession to Abbot Maximus Pullini at San Dalmazzo Parish. This Confession truly turned his heart to God whom he found so loving and merciful. Now Leonardo experienced “purity and peace of heart” for the first time.
To prepare for the university, Leonardo completed a two-year philosophy program, being sure to select courses devoid of bad companions. Then in 1844 during a Lenten mission focusing on Hell, he decided to consecrate himself to God as he felt a call to religious life.
Leonardo recognized his tendency to seek human respect and thus be led astray so he decided on joining the Capuchins to lead a solitary life. However, Canon Lawrence Renaldi convinced him to seek the priesthood. This seemed strange since all of his life he thought of being a lawyer, an engineer, or joining the military. In his surprise Leonardo thought, “God has chosen me!”
On the Feast of St. Leonard of Noblac, November 6, 1845, he received the cassock from Abbot Pullini in the Church of St. Clare, annexed to the Visitation Convent. He then attended the Royal University in Turin from 1845 to 1850.
He lived at home and received academic formation from August Berta and Peter Baricco, attending meetings with other seminarians where a priest provided spiritual and pastoral guidance. At the end of his courses, he received an award for having the best performance.
Msgr. John Ceretti ordained Leonardo a deacon on April 5, 1851 and a priest on September 20 at the mission house near the Visitation chapel. He celebrated his first Mass the next day on the feast of St. Matthew the Apostle — a saint for whom he had a special devotion.
After his Ordination, Leonardo aimed to make amends for his former wayward life. Fr. Marcantonio Durando expressed his severe disapproval for such a life during Leonardo’s general Confession before his Ordination.
Soon he joined the Oratory of the Guardian Angels and on the request of St. John Bosco he became director of the St. Louis Oratory in 1857 where he developed many educational programs for both the faith and the economic improvement of the boys. He also accepted many invitations to preach around the city of Turin.
After eight years, Fr. Murialdo went to Paris to continue formation at the St. Sulpice Seminary, including moral theology, canon law, and French educational systems. A brilliant canon lawyer and deeply spiritual man, Fr. Henry Icard, agreed to be Leonardo’s confessor and spiritual director, and years later, Fr. Icard helped Murialdo found his new congregation.
Returning to Turin in October 1866, he was appointed rector of the Collegio Artigianelli, an institution providing education and vocational training to orphans and abandoned children. Although he was very uncomfortable taking on such responsibility, he did so willingly, seeing it as the will of God. His housemate and original biographer Fr. Eugenio Reffo said Leonardo spent himself completely in serving the children, “for the Artigianelli, St. Leonardo Murialdo sacrificed himself until death.”
His system of education was not based so much on methodology as it was on charity, mercy, and patience. He was gentle and kind despite rude treatments by some students; regardless of the seriousness of any situation, he softened needed corrections with a smile.
On March 19, 1873, Fr. Murialdo with a few others founded the Congregation of St. Joseph. While he labored to develop the congregation’s legislative codification, to build institutional organization relationships with confreres, and to open 17 new houses, he continued to serve the Collegio.
He also supported the Catholic Workers union and the Congress Organization founded in 1875 to address social issues. He traveled throughout Italy and to Paris for these from 1872-1891.
In addition, he helped found a Catholic monthly publication The Voice of the Catholic Worker in 1876, and helped start the Association for Good Books and Journals in 1883.
In 1885 having depleted his strength by his work for souls, Fr. Murialdo caught bronchitis which lasted for six weeks. He made his Confession for death — and then recovered. He continued to suffer many illnesses and on March 30, 1900, he died from another bout of bronchitis, saying, “I’m waiting.”
His feast day is celebrated on March 30.

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