Seventy-five years ago, precisely on June 30, 1942, at the heart of the Second World War II, in Padua Saint Leopold Mandic passed away. Saint Leopold became known as the Apostle of Confession and the Apostle of Unity.
Leopold Bogdan Mandić was born on May 12, 1866, in Herceg Novi, in Boka Kotorska, modern-day Montenegro. In November of 1882, while he was 16, Bogdan went to Udine to start his novitiate there with the Venetian Capuchins. He was accepted in our Franciscan Capuchin Order by taking the name Leopold. In 1884, at the Bassano del Grappa friary, Leopold made his temporary profession whereas in 1888 he made his perpetual profession.
This small, poor and sickly Capuchin friar, having a height of only 1.35m, who had an awkward walk and stuttered, had great spiritual strength that imbued his saintly soul. Although he wanted to be a missionary in Easter Europe to work for the reunification of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Divine Providence wanted him elsewhere. Due to his physical deformities, stomach ailments, poor eyes and arthritis, his Capuchin ministers wisely declined sending him abroad. Instead, they entrusted him with the delicate ministry of confessions, a ministry which he fulfilled with an extraordinary commitment and love for Christ and His people. For fifty-years Fr Leopold, in the silence, in the reserve, in the humility of a confession room, immolated himself by laying down his life for Jesus’ flock. His availability, smile, prudence, modesty, and wisdom made him an outstanding spiritual companion. His Capuchin confreres described him as “the confessor”.
Fr Leopold articulated his dedication to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this manner: “We hide everything, even what may appear to be a gift of God, so as not to make it an instrument of profit. To God alone be honour and glory! If it were possible, we should pass over the earth like a shadow that leaves no trace.” And to whoever asked him how he could live that way, he would answer, “It is my life!”
Saint Leopold gave his entire life for poor human beings who needed God and invoked him. He spent long hours serving those who pleaded for God’ forgiveness, consolation, peace, and serenity. For these troubled people, Saint Leopold offered his life asa gift. Moreover, he offered for them his sorrows and prayer. With them, he joyfully celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Saint Leopold’s gaze was always fixed on the Crucifix that hung over the penitent’s kneeler.
This humble servant of Christ and His Church, who guided so many souls to the Father’s House, used to say to his penitents these heroic words, words that clearly unravel God’s abounding holiness in and through him.“Be at peace; place everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it. I give my penitents only small penances because I do the rest myself.” The motivating factor for such an exceptional love towards every penitent who used to come and genuflect before him to confess was his untiring ecumenical spirit. It was Christ’s plea that there might be “one flock under one shepherd” (Jn 10:16) that made Saint Leopold a victim soul to the Lord, through his daily self-giving at the confessional. He offered his apostolic labours at the confessional for that full unity between the Latin Church and the Oriental Churches. Once, weeping he confided: “I will be a missionary here, in obedience and in the exercise of my ministry”. And again: “Every soul who seeks my ministry will meanwhile be my Orient”.
I want to recall what Pope Francis told us Capuchins, in his homily at a Mass celebrated for the worldwide Capuchin Community on 9 February 2016 morning, in the presence of the relics of the great Capuchin confessors, Saints Leopold Mandic and Padre Pio in Saint Peter’s Basilica:
“The person who comes [for confession], comes to seek comfort, forgiveness, peace in his soul; may he find a Father who embraces him and says: ‘God loves you very much’; and makes him feel it!… But you Capuchins have this special gift of the Lord: to forgive. I ask you: do not tire of forgiving!”
Lord make me a confessor like Saint Leopold Mandić. And, through his intercession, rekindle in us the fervour to be healed by you thanks to this great Sacrament of Reconciliation. Amen.