Today, 30 Jul 2012, is the feast day of St Leopold Mandic, a holy Capuchin friar who lived out most of his life ministering to souls in the confessional at Padua, Italy. Beneath his frail, slight and suffering body lived a heart very similar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Its mercy, desire for unity and zeal for souls.
It is a joy to honour St Leopold today because he was my Patron Saint for 2005, and ever since I have sought his prayers each time I have prepared for the Sacrament of Penance. In my eyes he is one of the three outstanding Confessors of recently centuries, together with St John Vianney and St Padre Pio.
St Leopold Mandic was born on May 12, 1866 in Castelnuovo, on the southern tip of Dalmatia, Croatia, the twelfth child of a devout local Croat family. As a young man he was very frail, and never grew taller than 1.35m or 4 ft 5 in . He limped because of arthritis. However, he always wanted to be a foreign missionary. Leopold entered the Capuchin Franciscans at Udine, Italy in 1882 when he was 16 years old. He studied hard and grew in holiness. When he entered the novitiate in 1884 he took the name Brother Leopold. (one book has his original name Bogdan, the other Adeodatus). He studied philosophy at Padua and theology in Venice. In Venice he was ordained on 20th September 1890. Because of a speech impediment he was assigned permanently to the confessionals. He was sent to various Capuchin convents first, before being sent to Padua in 1906 where he lived until his death, except for one year in an Austrian prison camp during World War I for refusing to renounce his Croat nationality.
Behind his vocation was a secret. When Leopold was 22 he heard God ask him to pray from the return of the Orthodox to Catholic unity. He desired to return to his homeland to assist this cause, but it wasn’t to be. After Mass one day a holy person came to tell him, ‘Father, Jesus told me to tell you that each soul you help here in the confessional is your East. After this he would treat each person as though the conversion to unity of his people depended on that person. At Holy Mass, which he always offered for the intention of unity between the Eastern churches and the Catholic Church, he would suffer physically for the break in unity to the point that his tears would dampen the altar cloth.
Leopold’s life in Padua centered around the confessional, where for thirty years he heard confessions for 10 to 15 hours a day in a narrow cell which was bitter in winter and sweltering in summer. The convent in Padua where he lived and ministered is where his incorrupt body lies today.
He said of himself: ‘I really am quite ridiculous’. And that is what the other monks and children thought of him. But people had begun to line up outside his confessional in Padua. Some were sent by St Padre Pio himself, who said, ‘You have a saint in your city, why come to me?’
Granted the gift of reading people’s souls, Leopold used it to help souls seek reconciliation with God. One time a man who had not been to confession for a long time was brought by friends to Padua. Secretly he hoped to slip away after everyone had gone. Before he made his escape Leopold came suddenly out of the confessional and went straight to him and said: ‘Come in, sir. I have been waiting for you’ and inside ‘You didn’t want to come, did you…but don’t worry. I’ll tell you what you did? And now you are repentant aren’t you. Then God forgives you for everything. Thank you for coming, for bringing me so much joy; but do come again. I’ll be waiting for you.’
If a person was hesitant in approaching theSacrament, Leopold would get up to greet him and say, ‘Please sit down, don’t fear. You know, I’m a monk and a priest, but I’m a real wreck. If it weren’t for God the Master who holds my reigns, I’d be worse than others…’ He also knew when people were truly repentant and when they tried to excuse or minimize their sinfulness. At times he would continue to offer theSacrament of Reconciliation even when he was ill, or would skip meals to assist those waiting for God’s mercy. He suffered from severe stomach ailments. Often when confessions were over, he would remain in prayer, because he had promised to many of his penitents: ‘I will do penance for you. I will pray for you.’
Through out his life Leopold had a great devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, and he had a remarkable gift of discerning graces and helping people grow in their spiritual lives.
Once he said: ‘If Crucified Jesus should reproach me for being over indulgent, I shall say to Him, but You set this poor example for me. I have not yet become as mad as You as to die for souls.’
St Leopold used to repeat: “Remember that you have been sent for the salvation of people, not because of your own merits, since it is the Lord Jesus and not you who died for the salvation of souls…. I must cooperate with the Divine goodness of our Lord Who has deigned to choose me so that by my ministry, the Divine promise would be fulfilled: ‘There will be only one flock and one shepherd’” (John 10:16).
Shortly before he died, July 30, 1942, Leopold prophesied ‘the city will be bombed many times and this convent severely hit, but not this cell. Here in this cell God the Master has used much Mercy. It must remain as a monument to His goodness.’ And so it was that the bombings of 1944 destroyed the convent, but Leopold’s confessional cell remained unharmed.
On the last day of his life, Leopold was up at 5.30am, spent an hour in prayer and then began vesting for Mass.He collapsed while vesting, and a few hours later died while praying the last words of the Hail Holy Queen. He was 76 years old, having served Jesus as His priest for 52 years.
St Leopold Mandic was beatified in 1976 by Pope Paul VI, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1983, declaring him the saintly hero of the confessional. There is, not surprisingly, a statue of St Leopold located between the confessionals and the presbytery at the church of St James in Medjugorje.
St Leopold Mandic, pray for us.