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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Leopold Mandic

May 10, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In February 2016, Rome excitedly awaited the arrival of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio lived from 1887 to 1968) in celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy. As a Capuchin, Padre Pio was recognized not only for his extraordinary celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and his ability to read souls in the confessional, but also for his gift of the stigmata.
The relics of another Capuchin, not nearly as well-known as St. Pio but more or less a contemporary of his (both were canonized by Pope St. John Paul II), also arrived at the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls in Rome. His name is St. Leopold Mandic. After a brief time together there, the saints’ relics were moved to St. Peter’s Basilica before returning to their normal places of rest.
St. Leopold, an ethnic Croat, was born to Dragica Zarevic and Petar Antun Mandic, the owner of an Adriatic fishing fleet. He was the youngest of their 12 children. At the time, the wealthy and large family lived in a small port city in Montenegro.
The Mandic family took the newborn to the church the day after his birth in 1866 and baptized him with the name Bogdan Ivan Mandic. That was almost 22 years before the birth of his fellow Franciscan, Padre Pio.
Bogdan was a frail and small child from his birth, but what he lacked in physical strength, he more than compensated for with his uncommon spiritual strength and moral integrity. In 1882 when he was 16, Bogdan left home and went to Udine, in northeastern Italy. Here he became a student of the Seraphic School run by the Capuchins; he hoped to become a member of their order.
Even though his physical disabilities caused him much suffering, he diligently applied himself to his studies. His frail health did not hinder his advances with the Capuchins as he entered the novitiate in April 20, 1884. He did this at Bassano del Grappa, about 100 miles west of Udine in the foothills of the Italian Alps. When he took the novice’s habit, he also took the name of Leopold.
Leopold thrived on the simple lifestyle and the spirituality of the Capuchin friary, despite the severity. Once again he overcame his frail health and physical deformity to excel in holiness. Perhaps it would be better to say that his physical limitations actually served as a gift leading him to greater holiness and sacrifices, which helped him to share intimately with the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ.
In May 1885 at the age of 19, Leopold made his profession of vows. Then he began his preparation for the priesthood, first in Padua, the home of another fellow Franciscan, St. Anthony of Padua, who had lived there about 650 years previously.
From Padua, Leopold then went to Venice to complete his studies in theology and the priestly ministry. He was finally ordained on September 29, 1890. He anticipated becoming a missionary in foreign lands, but like Therese of Lisieux, his ill health prevented him from such an undertaking.
His dream of ministering to the suffering Christians in Eastern Europe was not to be realized — God had important work for him to do in Italy. For every door that closes, God will open a new one. For the next 16 years, from 1890 to 1906, Fr. Leopold traveled throughout the province of Venice and even to the Italian friary in Dalmatia where he served Mass and heard Confessions.
Then in 1906, his superiors sent him to Padua, where he stayed for the next 36 years except for one year. It so happened that during World War I (1914-1918), the political authorities tried to persuade Leopold to renounce his Croatian citizenship, which he adamantly refused to do. That refusal was rewarded by a one-year imprisonment.
When he was released from prison, the four-foot, five-inch tall man stooped with his deformity, crippled with arthritis and suffering from a stammer, returned to the Friary of Santa Croce in Padua where he would spend the rest of his life hearing Confessions.
Still weak and suffering from severe abdominal pains, Leopold remained a tower of holiness and virtue. His stamina was proven by the long days he spent in the confessional — between and 12 and 16 hours per day. Once again he embraced his many crosses.
Leopold became a fountain of mercy to many penitents, one of whom was Pope John Paul I who had great praise for the saint. The confessional in which Leopold heard Confessions was freezing in the winter and like an oven in the summer months. Yet he never complained and spent the time between penitents reading holy books and praying.
Many penitents testified to his humble love for sinners. A man who had not been to Confession in 20 years was stunned when Fr. Leopold rushed out of the confessional and grabbed his hand. Looking up at the man, he thanked him for the honor of having been able to hear his Confession.
When one penitent told Fr. Leopold after he heard his Confession that the good Father was too indulgent, the priest replied, “But who has been indulgent, my son? It was the Lord who was indulgent; it wasn’t me who died for sins, it is the Lord who died for our sins. How could He have been more indulgent with the thief, with others, than this?”
His humble demeanor, complete trust in God, and his hours of prayer helped him to rely solely on divine Providence. He knew that without God, he could do nothing, just as St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
Suffering from esophageal cancer, Fr. Leopold was vesting for Mass on July 30, 1942, when he collapsed on the floor. The friars carried him to his cell where he received the Last Rites. As they sang the Salve Regina, Fr. Leopold joined in singing, “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary,” and died.
Before his death he predicted the monastery would be hit by bombs during World War II but that his cell, where our Lord had dispensed so much mercy to so many sinners, would be left intact. And so it happened — just as he said.
A favorite quotation of this saint encourages the tireless work of every priest as he explained: “A priest must die from hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest.”
Fr. Leopold Mandic was beatified on May 2, 1976 by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope St. John Paul II on October 16, 1983. His feast is celebrated on May 12.
Dear St. Leopold, thank you for your example of being a willing confessor. May your prayers inspire many sinners to come to the confessional. May your prayers also bring such zeal to all priests that they will eagerly, lovingly, and mercifully hear Confessions for many hours, bringing many more Catholics ever closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through their ministry. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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