Saint Denis of Paris and Saint John Leonardi of Lucca

Saint Denis holding his own head, in the facade of Notre Dame at Paris (

Besides the great John Henry Newman, we also commemorate two other saints on this day:

Saint Denis, patron of Paris, was the city of lights’ first bishop and of France, and one of her greatest lights. He was likely martyred in the mid-third century in the Decian persecution and, as the legend goes, a cephalophore, literally, ‘one who carries his own head’: Sentenced to prison for the Faith, he was soon decapitated, on the hill now known as Montmartre overlooking the city of Paris, where the glorious basilica of Sacre-Couer now stands, which has had perpetual adoration since August 1, 1885. After his head rolled onto the ground, the good bishop then picked up that same head, and walked several miles, preaching repentance as he went – making him one of the many (!) such head-carriers in hagiography. On he went, until he reached the site where the great cathedral of Saint Denis – ransacked in the French Revolution – now stands. Believe it or not. What matters most is belief in the Faith, and we should pray that France might rediscover that same Faith, and, as Pope John Paul exhorted, to live out her original Baptism, in water, and in blood.

The second is Saint John Leonardi (+1609) priest of the Catholic (counter)-reformation – even though it was the Catholics who were countering the tragic de-formation of those early heresiarchs, Luther, Calvin and the rest. John first trained as a pharmacist (and that professions needs lots of prayers in our era), but soon felt called to the priesthood. After studies, he was ordained in 1572, and later felt called to found an association, the Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca, or the ‘Lucca Fathers’ for short. They devoted their priestly work to the formation of youth, and Father Giovanni of the Mother of God, which name John took in religion, was friends and a spiritual directee of none other than Saint Philip Neri, who esteemed ‘Father Giovanni’ highly – which is saying much, since the good Father Philp could read hearts and souls, and was not impressed lightly, nor with shallow virtue. After a life filled with good works, the holy priest died on this day, October 9th, 1609, of influenza he caught while ministering to his brethren in a plague, and many miracles have been attributed to his intercession. We could use a few more good priests, and men, like him, in our own troubled time.