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A LITTLE FRIAR WITH A GENEROUS HEART

Father Francis's picture
Saint Leopold of Mandic

Leopold Mandic had poor health, was small in stature, clumsy in his movements and had a speech defect. When he became a Capuchin priest his superiors decided the best policy would be to put him in the confessional where his physical weaknesses would not be noticeable. And so for nearly 40 years Leopold lived a hidden life but through this special mission reached the lives of many people.

Born in Dalmatia of a noble Bosnian family, the youngest of 12 children, he was a frail child but gentle and generous, with a love for prayer. As a 16 year old he expressed a wish to join the Capuchins and in 1890, aged 24, he was ordained. His country was divided between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians and Leopold, inspired by Jesus' words that "There shall be one fold and one shepherd," made a private vow to dedicate all his actions for the return of the "separated brethren" to the Catholic fold. He even taught himself several languages in preparation for his mission. It was obvious, however, that he was not fit for such work and, after serving in various friaries, was sent to Padua in 1909 as a confessor.

At first Leopold was disappointed, but he came to realise that he could still do valuable work. He offered his confessional work for his Orthodox brothers, and said many Masses for them. Although he was hidden away for up to 12 hours a day, he became known to everyone because of his kindness and wisdom in confession. He seemed to know the sins of his penitents and helped them to confess them. It is said that confessing to Leopold was a very brief affair, and he was even accused by some of his fellow friars of being too lenient in the penances he gave. Leopold responded by saying, "It's the Lord's fault, He sets me the example of mercy and love." He would often say to his penitents, "Be at peace. I will take care of it." And he would spend hours alone in his tiny cell, praying for all the people he had absolved that day, and doing extra penance on their behalf.

It was a lonely life, and Leopold had his share of mental suffering as well as physical discomfort. Nevertheless his faith was strong, and he prayed continually. He had a great love for Our Lady, and said the Rosary regularly. Each day he took care to place fresh flowers in front of her statue. When sick or unhappy people came to him he would tell them to go and pray to Our Lady and tell her that he had sent them.

Leopold said that a priest should die from hard work, and he certainly followed that principle. He died on 30th July 1942, just as he was about to say Mass. He was 76 years old.

When World War II began, Leopold had prophesied that the friary at Padua would be bombed but his confessional spared. In 1944, two years after his death, the friary and church were destroyed but Leopold's little cell with its statue of Our Lady, and the confessional where he had helped so many people, were untouched.

Leopold had his own ideas about how he wanted to live his religious life, but his health prevented him from doing what he wanted. Obedience demanded that he should be a confessor, and God showed him that he had a talent for this vocation. He brought comfort and help to many, and he offered all his work for the unity of his own people. If he had not been obedient, we would never have known him as the saint he is today.

Like Leopold, we all have dreams of what we would like to do with our lives, and sometimes we never reach our goals. But let us do what we can do well: we never know what God will achieve through us.

Saint Leopold, give us a great love for doing God’s will, and for the Sacrament of Confession.