Today is the feast day of the little-known saint, St. Joseph of Leonessa, O.F.M. (Capuchin priest).
Joseph was born Eufranio Desiderio in 1556 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 still a boy he used to take the discipline on Fridays in company with the Confraternity of the Holy Saviour. He was educated by his uncle who had planned a suitable marriage for him, but in his sixteenth year he fell sick of a fever, and upon his recovery, without consulting his guardian, he joined the Capuchin reform of the Franciscan Order. He made his novitiate at the friary of the Carcerelle near Assisi. As a friar 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 1587 he was sent by the Superior General of his Order to Constantinople to minister to the Christians held captive there. Once there, he and his companions lodged in the Galata district 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 Christian slaves in the galleys of the Ottoman Empire’s navy. Every day he went into the city to preach, until 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 the Sultan, but he was seized and condemned to death. For three days he was tortured by being hung on the gallows, held up by two hooks driven through his right hand and foot; then he was miraculously released by an angel!
Returning to Italy, he took with him a Greek archbishop who had apostatised, and who was reconciled to the Church on their arrival in Rome. Joseph now took up the work of mission work in his native Leonessa, sometimes preaching six or seven times a day. “Neither bad roads nor rain or snow could stop him, so great was his desire to win souls for Jesus Christ” (Aureole Seraphique). In the Jubilee year of 1600 he preached the Lent mission at Orticol, 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 etc. At Todi he cultivated a garden with his own hands, the produce of which was for the poor.
He died from cancer at Amatrice in 1612 and was canonised by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746. His feast day is kept on 4th February within the Franciscan Order.
Sources: EWTN Library of Saints and Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Vol.2).
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