Leonard Murialdo was born in Turin in 1828, eighth child of a well-to-do family. He lost his father at just four years of age, but he received an excellent Catholic education at the Scolopian College in Savona. As a teenager he went through a profound spiritual crisis which converted him and helped him discover the immense mercy of God and his priestly vocation. In Turin he took up philosophical and theological studies. In these years he began to work at the Guardian Angels Oratory, run by his cousin, Fr Robert Murialdo.
Thanks to this collaboration he came directly in touch with the problems of Turinese young people: street children, prisoners, chimney sweeps, shop hands. In 1851 he was ordained a priest. He began to work in close collaboration with Fr Cafasso and Don Bosco, and took on the administration of the St Aloysius Oratory at Don Bosco’s request.
In 1866 he accepted the administration of the Artigianelli College in Turin, dedicated to taking in and providing a Catholic and technical education for poor and abandoned boys. He made many journeys throughout Italy, France and England visiting educational and welfare institutions, to learn, and to address and improve the educational system.
He was one of the first to promote Catholic Libraries and Catholic Workers Unions, and would be their chaplain for many years. In 1873, with the support of some helpers, he founded the Congregation of Saint Joseph (Giuseppini of Murialdo). Their apostolic purpose was the education of youth, especially of poor and abandoned youth. He opened oratories, technical school, family homes for young workers, including young farmers, and took on further commitment in lay associations, especially in the field of technical formation of the young and printing works. He was a spiritual person and a man of prayer, a contemplative in action like Don Bosco.
Towards 1884 he was struck down by multiple attacks of bronchial pneumonia: Don Bosco went to give him his blessing and, despite some relapses, he lived until 1900.
He was beatified in 1963 and canonised by Paul VI in 1970. Benedict XVI commented in 2010 that “Love of God and love to God” were the force of Leonard’s path to sainthood, “the law of his priesthood, the most profound significance of his apostolate among poor young people and the source of his prayer”.