Saint John Leonardi was a diocesan priest, originally trained as a pharmacist, who ministered in the Church during the Catholic Reformation and The Council of Trent. As he began to pastor a parish, a group of young men gathered around him whom he helped realize their vocations to priesthood. A group of reform-minded clergy also formed around him and despite difficulties he organized them into a community which received recognition from the Church early on, but aroused the suspicion of the local government in the politically charged days of the Counter Reformation, which saw the foundation of too many religious communities in their view.
His community was eventually named the Order of the Mother of God. Here is St. Pope John Paul's description of his life and works at the Church he had been given to pastor in Rome:
Problems abounded. Indeed, the structural condition of the church and annexed buildings was precarious and in such a state of dilapidation that it looked like "a shepherd's cottage or hut". The flooding of the Tiber gave rise to an unhealthy humidity and dangerous infections which, in 1609, caused the death of many religious, including the founder himself. This prompted the Order, at the Congregation that met to elect St John Leonardi's successor, although reasserting the determination to remain in "that church of so great a devotion", to give an account of their difficult situation to Pope Paul V, asking him "for some other retreat, where they could care for the sick and seek shelter in the dangerous weather" (A. Bernardini, Croniche, parte III, p. 6).
A few years later, the Pontiff Alexander VII, recognizing that the site of the church of Santa Maria in Portico was "too remote from trade and equally sordid and vile, in short not at all suitable", built the church of Santa Maria in Campitelli in one of the most beautiful and characteristic places of Rome, where this religious family established its General Curia more than three centuries ago. In 1662, the image of Our Lady Romanae Portus Securitatis was moved to the new Church, which thus acquired the name of Santa Maria in Portico in Campitelli.
Pope Benedict XVI remarked on his life as a pharmacist-turned-priest:
"...he never lost his passion for pharmacology; he felt that his profession as a pharmacist would serve as a bridge that would allow him to fulfill his vocation more fully, dispensing to men through a holy life “God’s medicine,” which is Jesus Christ who was crucified and who rose again, “the measure of all things.”
John Leonardi knew what the true medicine for these spiritual maladies was and summarized it in the expression “Christ first of all” — Christ at the center of the human heart, at the center of history and at the center of the cosmos.
Mankind, he stated firmly, has an extreme need for Christ because he is our “measure.”
There is no area that cannot be touched by his power. There is no ailment that does not have its remedy in him. There is no problem that cannot be resolved through him.
“Christ or nothing!” — this was his prescription for every kind of spiritual and social reform.
He was named patron saint of Pharmacists in 2006, a profession which needs to strength of Christ to resist the modern challenges of prescription abortifacients and becoming integral to the physician assisted suicide movement. In no small measure, they are also challenged to help find workable solutions to the opioid epidemic which engulfs us.