Today the Franciscan family celebrates the feast of St. Leopold Mandic, a Croatian Capuchin priest who has been called the Apostle of Confession and the Apostle of Unity. He was born in 1866 and from an early age he suffered from several health conditions such as a severe stutter, strong abdominal pains, and chronic arthritis, which left him with a stooped frame and a clumsy walk. Although he came from a noble, wealthy family, the family eventually lost most of its wealth. Thus, Leopold was able to sympathize with other people who have experienced suffering resulting from loss and material poverty. At age 16, he left Croatia for Italy, studied at the Capuchin Seraphic School at Udine, and upon finishing his studies he entered the Capuchin order as a novice. He was ordained a priest six years later.
St. Leopold taught patrology for several years to the clergy of his province. However, he is perhaps best known for his dedication to hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction. It is said that he would spend up to 15 hours a day hearing confessions. Sometimes he would be accused of being ignorant or excessively lenient in confession. To this accusation he would respond, “Should the Crucified blame me for being lenient, I would answer Him: Lord, you gave me this bad example. I have not yet reached the folly of your having died for souls.” The saint had a strong sense of empathy and compassion for people who were suffering and especially for orphans and worked to establish orphanages where they were needed.
It’s interesting to note that during the extraordinary jubilee year of mercy declared by Pope Francis in 2015, he requested that the relics of St. Leopold should come to Rome. The Holy Father spoke of Leopold as an exemplary merciful priest for other priests to emulate. In an interview Pope Francis says, “I once read a homily by then cardinal Albino Luciani, later Pope John Paul I, about Father Leopold Mandic, who had just been beatified by Pope Paul VI. He described something that was very similar to what I just told you. ‘You know, we are all sinners,’ Luciani said on that occasion. ‘Father Leopold knew that very well. We must take this sad reality of ours into account: no one can avoid sin, small or great, for very long. But, as Saint Francis de Sales said, if you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing; it’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say: ‘Up, let’s take to the road again…Now we will get back on the road, and we will pay more attention next time.’ This is the system, and Father Leopold applied this system in full. A priest, a friend of mine, who went to confess to him said: ‘Father, you are too generous. I am glad to have gone to confession to you, but it seems to me that you are too generous.’ And Father Leopold said: ‘But who has been generous, my son? It was the Lord who was generous; I wasn’t the one who died for our sins, it was the Lord who died for our sins. How could we have been more generous with the thief, with others, than this!’ This was the homily of then Cardinal Luciani on Leopold Mandic, who was later proclaimed a saint by John Paul II.”
“Should the Crucified blame me for being lenient, I would answer Him: Lord, you gave me this bad example. I have not yet reached the folly of your having died for souls.” – St. Leopold Mandic
From the time of his ordination, St. Leopold had a longing to go among the Orthodox Christians and to promote their unity with the Catholic Church but his superiors denied his requests due to his poor health. As some of you are probably already aware, Pope Francis just yesterday added 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs to the Catholic list of saints. These were the Egyptian Coptic Christian workers who were kidnapped in 2015 by IS (the Islamic State) and were subsequently beheaded. The canonization of these martyrs is an excellent ecumenical gesture on the part of the Holy Father as both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches continue to seek full communion with each other once and for all. Although Pope Francis does not explicitly mention St. Leopold Mandic, it is interesting that this wonderful occasion has taken place near his feast day. I imagine that the Holy Father was either inspired by Leopold or that Leopold’s intercession for the Church has been particularly potent in these times.
We thank God for the example of St. Leopold as a merciful confessor and an Apostle of Unity and we continue to ask for his gracious intercession for the Church. We all can become vessels and conduits of the mercy of God if we allow the Holy Spirit to work freely in and through us. St. Leopold can help us to become more like Christ both through his example and through his prayers. St. Leopold Mandic, pray for us!
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA