St. Leopold Mandic may not be as recognizable as his Capuchin brother, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, but his life is a moving testament to perseverance and faith despite lifelong physical ailments.
St. Leopold was born Bogdan in 1866 in Dalmatia, Croatia and he was
the youngest of 12 children.
From an early age, Bogdan suffered from a
severe stutter and strong adnominal pains.
Chronic arthritis gave him a
stooped frame and gnarled hands.
But, what the future saint lacked in
physical health, he made up for with spiritual strength.
At 16, Bogdan left Croatia for Italy, where he studied at the
Capuchin Seraphic School at Udine. He entered the Capuchin order as a
novice in 1884 at Bassano del Grappa and took the religious name Brother
Leopold. He made his Profession of Vows one year later and was ordained
a priest in Venice in 1890.
After his ordination, St. Leopold yearned to become a missionary in
Eastern Europe. At the time, Eastern Europe was ravaged by religious
conflict. But, St. Leopold’s superiors denied his request to become a
missionary because of his poor health.
Instead, he was stationed at various friaries in the Venetian
province and eventually taught about the early Church Fathers at a
school in Padua, where he became well known for his devotion to his
students and his hours spent in prayer each night.
After a brief exile to southern Italy during World War I, St. Leopold
returned to Padua and would remain in the city for the rest of his
Bent and increasingly weak with age, St. Leopold spent much of the
next three decades hearing confessions and providing spiritual direction
from inside his small cell in Padua. The friar would spend up to 15
hours a day hearing confessions from people from every walk of life. He
also adopted special sacrifices, prayers and fasts.
Word of the friar’s mercy spread quickly and soon St. Leopold faced
accusations of ignorance or excessive leniency in the confessional. To
which the holy friar responded, “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.”
In 1942, St. Leopold fainted while preparing for Mass. He was
reportedly weak from spending the previous day hearing nonstop
confessions and the entire night in prayer. He died while singing the
final words of the Salve Regina. The saint had suffered from esophagus
cancer, which is believed to be the cause of his death.
St. Leopold’s example seems to be close to Pope Francis’ heart. The
Pope requested the relics of St. Leopold to come to Rome for the Jubilee
of Mercy. Pope Francis also offered St. Leopold as an example of a
merciful priest in his interview earlier this year with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.
In the interview, Pope Francis referenced an old homily by Pope John
Paul I, who was Cardinal Albino Luciani at the time. Cardinal Luciani
used the example of a destitute donkey in order to illustrate St.
If a donkey is walking along the road and falls on the cobblestones,
one must not “go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing. It’s
already unfortunate enough,” then-Cardinal Luciani said.
Instead, a person should take the donkey by the halter and help it
up, saying “up, let’s take to the road again,” the Cardinal continued.
“Now we will get back on the road, and we will pay more attention next
“This is the system, and Father Leopold applied this system in full.”
The Cardinal also recounted the story of a friend who had gone to
confession with Fr. Leopold. After receiving absolution, the friend told
the priest, “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.”
In response, St. 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 he have been more
generous with the thief, with others, than this?”
St. Leopold was beatified in 1976 and canonized in 1983. His feast is celebrated May 12.