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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

February 4

St. Joseph of Leonissa, Confessor

THIS saint was born in 1556, at Leonissa, a small town near Otricoli, in the ecclesiastical state, and at eighteen years of age made his profession among Capuchin friars, in the place of his birth, taking the name of Joseph; for before he was called Eufranius. He was always mild, humble, chaste, patient, charitable, mortified, and obedient to an heroic degree: with the utmost fervour, and on the most perfect motive of religion, he endeavoured to glorify God in all his actions. Three days in the week he usually took no other sustenance than bread and water, and passed several Lents in the year after the same manner. His bed was hard boards, with the trunk of a vine for his pillow. The love of injuries, contumelies, and humiliations, made him find in them his greatest joy. He looked upon himself as the basest of sinners, and said, that indeed God by his infinite mercy had preserved him from grievous crimes; but that by his sloth, ingratitude, and infidelity to the divine grace, he deserved to have been abandoned by God above all creatures. By this humility and mortification he crucified in himself the old man with his deeds, and prepared his soul for heavenly communications in prayer and contemplations, which were his assiduous exercises. The sufferings of Christ were the favourite and most ordinary object of his devotions. He usually preached with a crucifix in his hands, and the fire of his words kindled a flame in the hearts of his hearers and penitents. In 1587 he was sent by his superiors into Turkey, to labour as a missioner among the Christians at Pera, a suburb of Constantinople. He there encouraged and served the Christian galley-slaves with wonderful charity and fruit, especially during a violent pestilence with which he himself was seized, but recovered. He converted many apostates, one of whom was a bashaw. By preaching the faith to the Mahometans he incurred the utmost severity of the Turkish laws, was twice imprisoned, and the second time condemned to a cruel death. He was hung on a gibbet by one hand, which was fastened by a chain, and pierced with a sharp hook at the end of the chain; and by one foot in the same manner. Having been some time on the gibbet, he was released, 1 and the sentence of death was changed by the sultan into banishment. Wherefore, embarking for Italy, he landed at Venice; and after two years’ absence arrived at Leonissa. He resumed his apostolic labours in his own country with extraordinary zeal, and an uncommon benediction from heaven. To complete his sacrifice, he suffered very much towards the end of his life from a painful cancer, to extirpate which he underwent two incisions without the least groan or complaint, only repeating: “Holy Mary, pray for us miserable afflicted sinners:” and holding all the while a crucifix in his hand, on which he fixed his eyes. When some said, before the operation, that he ought to be bound or held, he pointed to the crucifix, saying: “This is the strongest band, this will hold me unmoved better than any cords could do.” The operation proving unsuccessful, the saint happily expired, on the 4th day of February, in 1612, being fifty-eight years old. His name was inserted in the Roman Martyrology on the 4th of February. See the history of his miracles in the acts of his beatification, which ceremony was performed by Clement XII. in 1737, and in those of his canonization by Benedict XIV. in 1746. Acta Canonizationis 5 Sanctorum, viz. Fidelis a Sigmaringa, M. Camilli de Lellis, Petri Regalati, Josephi a Leonissa, and Catharinæ de Riccis, a Benedicto XIV. an. 1746, printed at Rome an. 1749, p. 11. 85. and the bull for his canonization, p. 558. Also Bullar. t. 15. p. 127.  1
Note 1. Some say he was released by an angel, after hanging three days: but this circumstance is not mentioned by Benedict XIV. in the decree for his canonization, p, 559. [back]