St. John Leonardi was born in 1541 at Diecimo, in the Republic of Lucca. At the age of 17 he was sent to Lucca to learn the apothecary’s trade, but having from a tender age been most piously inclined, he, after many difficulties, including the necessity of educating himself, embraced the sacerdotal state, and was ordained on the 22nd of December, 1571. He founded the congregation, Clerics Regular of the Mother of God, in 1574.

Two or three young laymen, attracted by his sanctity and the sweetness of his character, had gathered round him to submit themselves to his spiritual guidance and help him in the work for the reform of manners and the saving of souls which he had begun even as a layman. John rented the beautiful little church of Santa Maria della Rosa, and in a quarter close by, something like community life was started.

It was here, when it became evident that St. Leonardi’s lay helpers were preparing for the priesthood and that something like a religious order was in process of formation, that a storm of persecution broke out against the devoted founder. The Fathers of the republic seem to have had a real fear that a native religious order, if spread over Italy, would cause the affairs of the little state to become too well known to its neighbors.

The persecution, however, was so effective and lasting, that the St. Leonardi practically spent the rest of his life in banishment from Lucca, only being now and again admitted by special decree of the Senate, unwillingly extracted under papal pressure. In 1580 St. Leonardi acquired secretly the ancient church of Santa Maria Corteorlandini (popularly known as Santa Maria Nera) which his sons hold to this day. In 1583 the congregation was canonically erected at the instigation of Pope Gregory XIII by Bishop Alessandro Guidiccioni, of Lucca, and confirmed by the Brief of Clement VIII Ex quo divina majestas, 13 October, 1595.

The congregation at this time only took simple vows of chastity, perseverance, and obedience, and was known as the Congregation of Clerics Secular of the Blessed Virgin. In 1596 Clement VIII nominated St. John Leonardi commissary Apostolic for the reform of the monks of the Order of Monte Vergine, and in 1601 the cardinal protector appointed him to carry out a similar work among the Vallambrosans. In 1601 he obtained the church of S. Maria in Portico in Rome. In the same year Cardinal Baronius became protector of the congregation. Leonardi died in Rome 9 October, 1609, aged sixty-eight, and was buried in Santa Maria in Portico.

The present church of the congregation in Rome, obtained in 1662, is Santa Maria in Campitelli (called also Santa Maria in Portico) interesting to Englishmen as the first titular church of the Cardinal of York. The body of the founder was removed to this church and lies there under the altar of St. John the Baptist.

John Leonardi was declared Venerable in 1701, and beatified by Pius IX in 1861. Leo XIII, in 1893, caused his name to be inserted in the Roman Martyrology, and canonized in 1938, by Pope Pius XI. Is remembered and celebrated on October 9 of each year. The Holy Father Benedict XVI, at the request of pharmacists Italian Catholics, declared him their heavenly patron on 8 August 2006.

In 1614 Pope Paul V confided to the congregation the care of the so-called Pious Schools. It is in his Brief Inter Pastoralis that the congregation is first called of the Mother of God, having until then been known by its original name of Clerics Secular of the Blessed Virgin. The care of these schools being considered outside the scope of the congregation, it was relieved of their charge by the same pontiff in 1617.

It was not until 1621 (3 November) that Gregory XV, carrying out what was always in the founder’s mind, erected the congregation into a religious order proper by permitting its members to take solemn vows, and it henceforth became the Clerics Regular of the Mother of God. St. John Leonardi received many offers of churches during his life, but with a view of conciliating the governing body of the republic thought it better to refuse them. In all its history the order has never had more than fifteen churches, and never more than seven at one time. It was introduced into Naples in 1632, Genoa 1669, and Milan 1709.

In the sacristy of Santa Maria Corteorlandini is preserved a large portion of a hair-shirt of St. Thomas of Canterbury whose feast is celebrated there with considerable ceremony; in 1908 half of this relic was presented to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Thomas, Erdington, England. The former residence of the clerics, who kept a large boys’ school until the suppression in 1867, is now the public library of Lucca. Two of the original companions of the holy founder, Cesare Franciotti and Giovanni Cioni, have been declared Venerable. The Order justly enjoys great fame for its learning and its numerous scholars and writers. Suffice it to mention Giovanni Domenico Mansi, editor of the Councils and a hundred other works.

The arms of the order are azure, Our Lady Assumed into Heaven; and its badge and seal the monogram of the Mother of God in Greek characters.

The existing churches of the Order in the Italy are Santa Maria Cortelandini, Lucca; Santa Maria in Campitelli, Rome; Santa Maria in Portico di Chiaia, and Santa Brigida, Naples; the Madonna della Stella Migliano (1902); parish church of Sacro Cuore di Gesù, Gallipoli; parish church of S. Maria del Rosario, San Ferdinando di Puglia; parish church of San Giovanni Leonardi, Torremaura; parish church of Santa Maria Intemerata, Lariano; parish church of S. Maria Assunta, Diecimo. The Parish Church of S. Maria Assunta, Diecimo, belongs to Indian delegation of the Order as the delegation was ready to start their mission in Italy. At present there are more than 15 Religious priests in Italy. lt has taken more than three centuries to expand the Order outside Italy. First Mission outside Europe was started in Chile. Some communities are founded in Santiago, Rancagua, Quinta de Tilcoco.

The Chilean delegation in recent years has developed a charitable and cultural sensibility through recognized institutions: The Hogar de Menores Association founded by Fr. Alceste Piergiovanni, La Fundciòn Civitas, Cultural Center Agora and the Fundación pro Dignitate Hominis conceived by Fr. Baldo Santi; The fundacòn S. Juan Diego de Guadalupe for youth education by Fr. Guillermo Arceu. At present more than 10 religious priest in chile.

For the initiatives of the Fathers from Chilean Delegation, the Indian Mission was started in Tamil Nadu. The Pioneer of the Indian Mission was Rev. Fr. Bruno Dessì. At present there are 7 Communities 2 seminaries in Tamil Nadu, India and more than 48 religious priests.

After India the Congregation was extended to Nigeria and the pioneer missionaries are Indian religious priest. At present there are more than 15 Religious priests in Nigeria.

Then the Order started its Mission in Indonesia with Indian Delegation and in Colombia with Chilean Delegation.