Saint Leopold Bogdan Mandić

"Apostle of the Sacrament of the Confession"

Feast Day : 12th May

His feast is celebrated May 12. Herceg Novi (Castelnovo in Italian), is located in Bosnia-Hercegovina, near Kotor Bay on the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia. The territory once belonged to the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. Capuchins from the Venetian Province had established a presence in Herceg Novi in 1688, first as naval chaplains, and subsequently as preachers. They retained a small hospice at Herceg Novi even after the fall of the Venetian Republic. The local populace was marked by ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. The cultural and ethnic mix included native Croats, Greeks, Serbs, Bulgars, Russians, and Turks. Besides Roman Catholics, there were Orthodox, Nestorians, Monophysites, and Moslems. The Venetian Capuchins were instrumental in keeping Roman Catholicism vibrant. 

It was into this environment that Bogdan John Mandich, the twelfth and last child of Carlotta Zarevich and Peter Mandich, was born on May 12, 1866. Peter was descended from an ancient noble family of Bosnia. His father owned an Adriatic fishing fleet. Carlotta's mother was the Countess Eleanor Bujovich. Caught in the web of political upheaval, the family had lost its fortune over the years. Early on, Bogdan learned empathy for those who had lost their dignity, either social or moral. He understood their pain because of his own family's experience. He always remembered his mother as the person "to whom I owe everything that I am." At 16 years of age, on November 16, 1882, Bogdan went to Udine to enter the seminary of the Venetian Capuchins. On May 2, 1884, he was invested at the friary at Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza), and took the name, Leopold. He made his first profession of vows on May 4, 1885. Profession of perpetual vows followed at Padua on October 28, 1888. 

In the mid-1880s, Bishop Joseph Juraj Strossmayer began an ecumenical movement which focused on unity in diversity, consecrating the cathedral of Djakovo i Srijem (Bosnia) "for the glory of God, church ecumenism, and the peace and love of my people." Leopold dedicated himself to the same end. At age 24, on September 20, 1890, Leopold was ordained to the presbyterate at Venice. 

Since Leopold did not have Italian citizenship and refused to renounce his homeland, he was exiled to southern Italy during the world war. Desirous of returning to his homeland, he hoped to be repatriated after the war. He wanted to work for the return of his co-patriots to the Catholic Church. Although a member of the Venetian Province, Leopold always retained a desire to return among his own people in a ministry of evangelization. Realistically, however, Leopold was not able to preach because his speech was slow, jagged, and belabored, almost stuttering. His health always posed a legitimate concern. His body was short in stature (4' 6"), curved, pallid, and extremely fragile. He suffered from poor eyesight, stomach ailments, and crippling arthritis. Despite his enthusiastic desire to return to his homeland to work for church unity, the Capuchin ministers judged Leopold unfit for that ministry and assigned him instead to the ministry of sacramental reconciliation. Nonetheless, everything Leopold did was done for the unity of the church. He repeatedly prayed, "One flock, one shepherd." Recognizing charity as the road paving the way to unity, he decided to become a good shepherd in the confessional. 

For 34 years he heard confessions. He was always quick, serene, affable, available for any sacrifice for the good and service of others. Wherever he was assigned over the years, Leopold was greatly admired and loved by the people. Despite being hidden in the darkness of the confessional, he was known to everyone. His fierce Dalmation temperament notwithstanding, he always controlled himself, was generous in forgiving, and never harbored resentment. Among his Capuchin brothers, Leopold was the object of much misunderstanding and negative criticism. His ministry often prevented him from being present at communal gatherings. Some friars objected to the largesse Leopold showed to penitents. Leopold transformed the confessional into an experience of human dignity, a personal encounter of compassion, respect, and understanding. There every penitent experienced the mercy of God and the kindness of a priest. Leopold once remarked, "Some say that I am too good. But if you come and kneel before me, isn't this a sufficient proof that you want to have God's pardon? God's mercy is beyond all expectation." When accused of leniency in assigning penances, Leopold would respond, "If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I'll tell him that it was he who gave me this example, and I haven't even died for the salvation of souls as he did." Leopold would often remark, "Be at peace; place everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it." He once explained, "I give my penitents only small penances because I do the rest myself." At nighttime, he would spend hours in prayer, explaining: "I must do penance for my penitents." 

Despite his inbred severity and Capuchin austerity, Leopold had a big heart, full of understanding and sensitivity. He was very vocal about pro-life issues and was instrumental in inspiring a teacher to found "Little Homes" for orphans where they could experience a parent's love. Perhaps his greatest personal penance was living in an extremely small room (6'7" in width and 4'3" in length) which was an icebox in winter and an oven in summer. 

Leopold had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary whom he called (in Venetian dialect), "Parona benedeta," (i.e., "my holy boss"). He celebrated daily eucharist at the side altar of the Immaculate Conception, recited the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, and prayed the rosary often. He had a special love for expectant mothers and for children. He would visit the sick, in Padua and the surrounding area, in nursing homes and private houses. He often visited the Capuchin infirmary to comfort the sick and senior friars. His constant refrain was, "Have faith! Have faith!" He had a special captivation with doctors, reminding them often, "God is both the physician and the medicine." He once said of priests, "A priest must die from apostolic hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest." 

Cancer of the esophagus led to Leopold's death. On July 30, 1942, he was vesting for liturgy when he collapsed on the sacristy floor. He was brought to his cell where he was anointed. Friars gathered at his cell and began to pray the "Salve Regina" with Leopold. When they got to the words, "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary," Leopold died. He was 76 years old, 60 of which were spent as a Capuchin, and 52 as a priest. 

Leopold's cell and confessional were spared the bombing of World War II, even though the church and part of the friary were demolished. Leopold had predicted it, "The church and the friary will be hit by the bombs, but not this little cell. Here God exercised so much mercy for people, it must remain as a monument to God's goodness." Paul VI beatified Leopold on May 2, 1976. He was canonized by John Paul II on October 16, 1983 during the Synod of Bishops considering the theme of reconciliation. Leopold is hailed as the "Apostle of Unity." 

Source: Capuchin Order, San Franciscan, California

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