St. Leonard was born Paul Jerome Casanova on Dec. 20, 1676, in Porto Maurizio, Italy. His father was a sea captain, and when Paul was 13, his parents sent him to live with his uncle Agostino, and study to become a physician. Paul didn’t want to study medicine, so his uncle disowned him.
Paul began studying at the Jesuit College in Rome, and in October of 1697, he joined the Franciscans of the Strict Observance, taking the name Brother Leonard. In 1703, he was ordained, and began teaching. Although he planned to travel to China and work as a missionary, he suffered from a bleeding ulcer, and was forced to spend several years recuperating in his hometown.
In 1709, Leonard went to Florence to preach. He was a great speaker, and was often invited to neighboring parishes to preach. Leonard was extremely devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart, Immaculate Conception, and the Stations of the Cross, encouraging everyone to increase their own devotions. He set up Stations of the Cross in over 500 different locations, including the Colosseum in Rome.
Pope Benedict XIV sent Leonard to Corsica in 1744 to work as a missionary, and to bring order to the Franciscans there. He had little luck in Corsica, coming up against the local political leaders often. Leonard returned to Rome, where he spent the rest of his life. He died on Nov. 26, 1751, at the monastery of St. Bonaventure.