November 26 – Innocent of Irkutsk; Leonard of Port Maurice

Innocent of Irkutsk, Apostle to Siberia (1680–1731), was baptized John (why not say “Ivan”?) in Chernihiv (Chernigov), and attended the Kiev (Kyiv) Theological Seminary. Monkified as Innokenty, he served in various offices at the Moscow Slavonic-Greek-Latin-Cherokee-Klingon Academy (later renamed the Moscow Theological Academy (for transparent reasons)) and the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg.

He was sent on mission to China, but after cooling his heels (literally) for three years in the border town of Selingen (I was unable to find Selingin on any map; I fear it was swallowed by the snows), word came from the Chinese government that this “spiritual personage and great lord” (as he had been billed) would not be allowed in. Apparently China had been having trouble with Jesuits, and were not kindly disposed toward Christians, especially great spiritual lords. He was then bishop of the newly-formed diocese of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk on the shores of faraway Lake Baikal. Far away from Petersburg, I mean. It was apparently not far from Selingin. Wherever exactly that was.

Thwarted at being a missionary to China, Innocent became a missionary to the native peoples of Siberia. His diocese expanded greatly during his tenure, adding millions of square versts of permafrost. He founded and presided over two schools, one Mongolian and one Russian, which he worked hard to keep supplied with teachers and books. All this without any financial support from headquarters in Petersburg, due to an unfortunate oversight. Eventually the climate took its toll and his never-terribly-robust health gave out. He was buried in the church he had built at the Ascension Monastery, and when the church was renovated a generation later, his body was found to be incorrupt (and very cold). It was stolen by the Soviets and displayed in an anti-religious museum (truly those guys had issues) as “some mummified Siberian.” He was returned to the church in 1990, and is interred in the Irkutsk cathedral.

Leonard of Port Maurice (1676–1751) was born to a sea captain and a sea captain’s wife (same sea captain), baptized Paul Jerome Casanuova, and sent at thirteen to study in Rome under the sponsorship of his uncle Agostino. Disowned when he decided against a career in law, Paul joined the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), which is to say the Franciscans[1], taking the name Leonard. Leonard was almost immediately beset with a bleeding ulcer, which kept him bedridden for nearly four years. He vowed that if he were healed, he would devote his life to mission work. He was, and he did.

With the Monastery of San Francesco del Monte (“Canned Fruit of St. Francis”) as his base, he preached across Tuscany (he had a strong voice) for the next 44 years, making many converts (wasn’t Italy Catholic already?). In 1730 he moved to Rome and carried out successful missions to soldiers, sailors, convicts, galley slaves, and the occasional space alien. Following this he had appointments in Genoa, Corsica, Rome again (in the Piazza Navona, not to be confused with the Pizza Navona), and Bologna (which is terrible on pizza). He had promised Pope Benedict XIV that he would die in Rome, so when he knew he was fading, he went to the Eternal City, and departed on the same day he arrived (so to speak).

Leonard was devoutly devoted to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and to the Stations of the Cross, of which he set up nearly 600, including in the Colosseum in Rome.

[1] Every Catholic order has at least two names: one they use on the stationery, and one they use in the refectory.