Leopold Mandić – feast day is May 12
by Melanie Rigney
If you had encountered this Capuchin friar, you might have given him a second glance because of his stature —and then moved on. Other than being just 4 feet, 6 inches tall, there wasn’t much that was noteworthy about Leopold. He had all kinds of health issues, including stuttering and throat problems that caused him to speak very loudly. Eventually he would die of esophageal cancer. However, his ailments couldn’t keep him from being really, really good at one thing. But more about that in a bit.
The saint born Bogdan Mandić grew up in a large family in a town in what is now Montenegro. Many of the people he knew were members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and he felt a strong desire to play a role in reconciling the centuries-long schism between it and the Catholic Church. The way to do that, he believed, was to become a Capuchin friar. At 16, he entered a seminary 500 miles up the Adriatic coast in Udine, Italy. He was ordained eight years later, becoming Br. Leopold, and he asked permission to return to his hometown to helpbring the East and the West together. However, given his medical situation, his request was denied. After a variety of assignments in the Venice area that didn’t work out for one reason or another, Leopold found a permanent home at the Capuchin monastery in Padua, where he spent nearly all of the rest of his life.
It was in Padua that Leopold embarked on a different kind of reconciliation ministry —hearing confessions. In that role, it didn’t matter that his voice was weak or that he had arthritis. Hearing confessions became Leopold’s only ministry at age 48. He listened for eight, 12, sometimes even 18 hours a day. Among those whose confessions Leopold heard was seminarian Albino Luciani, who later became Pope John Paul I. “He welcomed the sinner like a brother, like a friend, and for this reason it was not a burden to go to confession to him,” the pope liked to say. The pope always carried a photo of Leopold with him, right next to the photo of his mother.
Born: May 12, 1866
Died: July 30, 1942
Canonized: Oct. 16, 1983, by St. John Paul II
Feast Day: May 12
Sometimes Leopold was criticized for his easy penances. On those occasions, his answer was that no one was more lenient with sinners than Jesus. Even his critics found it hard to argue with that.
During the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2015–2016, Pope Francis had the remains of Leopold and his Capuchin confrere St. Pio of Pietrelcina brought to the Vaticanfor veneration. In a related address on March 4, 2016, the pope noted a saying credited to Leopold: “The mercy of God exceeds our every expectation.”
Isn’t it a beautiful thought that we cannot even begin to imagine God’s mercy for us? Not all confessorsmay have the same gift for listening for which Leopold became known, but it’s the rare exception that we don’t leave the confessional without a sense of freedom and unburdening. Whether our penance is “hard” or “easy,” we feel clean again.
Further, we can be inspired by Leopold’s patience in discerning where God wanted him to use his special charism of reconciliation. While few of us are called to reunify Christians globally and offer sacramental forgiveness, we can all follow his example in forgiving our families and friends and even total strangers when they injure us. We don’t need to put ourselves in dangerous physical or emotional situations, but we can free ourselves of the resentment and bitterness we feel against our betrayers and pray for them to experience a conversion that draws them closer to the Body of Christ.
St. Leopold Mandić, help me to believe the Lord can forgive anything if I come to him with a contrite spirit and a humbled heart, and help me to extend that same forgiveness to those who have injured me.