As part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked that the relics of two Italian saints famous for their ministry of the consessional—St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968) and St. Leopold Mandic (1866-1942)—be displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb 5-11, 2016, as a model for all the priests who will hear confessions during this Holy Year.
Both Capuchin priests laboured intensively in the confessional, often hearing confessions for up to fourteen hours a day and demonstrated the gifts of reading souls. While St. Padre Pio is known worldwide for being the first priest bearing the stigmata (marks corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ), St. Leopold Mandic’s life is less known, but just as amazing, and well worth being told. So here is a summary of his life:
by Dom Antoine-Marie, OSB
One November evening in the year 1882, a young adolescent accompanied by his father arrived at Udina, Italy. They were coming to the Capuchin friary; since they were expected, the door opened immediately allowing them to enter. The Father Guardian hastened to meet the guests. He looked at the young sixteen year old, too small for his age, thin and pale. Truly his appearance went against him, with his awkward look made even more clumsy by his timidity and his heavy gait. He even had a speech defect: he stuttered. But his regular features, the expression on his face, enlightened by a lively look and a candid smile, made up quite well for these defects. What is more, the few words he pronounced revealed a quite decided young man: he wanted to become a priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
He was from far away Castelnovo in Dalmatia (today Hercegnovi, Montenegro). Born on May 12, 1866, he was baptized with the name Deodatus, which means "God-given." Following a time of misfortune, his family, which used to be noble and rich, was reduced to a modest condition; but the change had not in any way spoiled their faith nor the fidelity of the Mandic family to the Roman Church.
Naturally proud and lively, the little Deodatus was a pure product of the Dalmatian blood which flowed in his veins. There was a good atmosphere in the "seraphic" seminary he had just entered. But his schoolmates were robust and well-built, and all the allusions to his small size—he never would grow taller than four foot four—, or to his faulty pronunciation, struck him to the heart. He would also rise in protest when he surprised one of the Fathers at school eyeing him with too much compassion. A few bursts of bad temper, without much importance, committed him to a courageous and persevering struggle to tame his sensitivity, moderate his fiery character and acquire habitual patience and persuasive meekness. From the day he received First Communion, Deodatus drew frequently from the Eucharist the necessary strength to correct his faults.
By giving himself to God in religious life, he had a precise goal: to work for the return to Catholic unity of the Orientals separated from the Church of Rome. This idea came to him during his youth at Castelnovo. This port on the Adriatic Sea is an important center of commerce, the meeting place of men of diverse races and religions.
In the midst of this religious plurality, the Catholic Church maintained an honorable rank, but its influence was not sufficient to oppose and control the excesses of cupidity, luxury and sensuality. Deodatus was struck with the distressing spectacle of this spiritual misery. Through the years, God made him understand better how much the true faith was missing for these uprooted populations. In his heart a desire was born, a plan which, under the influence of grace, became a precise and firm resolution: to save these abandoned souls by helping them enter the Catholic Church. Deep thought widened his view and, beyond his encounters in Castelnovo, he discovered all the Eastern countries won over by schism and living outside the true fold of Christ. He, the little Mandic, would be their apostle.
Deodatus' time of training in Udina lasted just 18 months. Admitted into the novitiate in Bassano del Grappa, on April 20, 1884, he received the religious habit and the name of Brother Leopold. After the novitiate, he studied philosophy in Padua and theology in Venice where, on September 20, 1890, he was ordained a priest. His desire to leave for the missions had intensified, but his health had suffered from the hard work furnished during the years of study and he was first sent to different monasteries of the Order to recover his strength. This was a big let down. However, he accepted it in a deep spirit of faith, not wanting to direct his life by personal inspiration, but by obedience. With a view towards future missions, he improved his knowledge of the sacred sciences and oriental languages such as modern Greek, Croatian, Slovenian and Serbian. He was also busy with various kinds of manual work for the maintenance of the houses in which he dwelt.
In 1897, he was appointed superior of the Capuchin Friary of Zara. He rejoiced, for Zara was closer to the East. Many sailors and merchants of all the Balkan countries and the Near East frequented this Dalmatian port. Father Leopold had hardly settled in when he began his apostolate. As soon as a ship was announced, he ran to welcome the newcomers and made acquaintance with them. He had an easy pretext, for when a stranger lands in a foreign country, he is glad to meet a friendly face ready to give useful information and guidance, if needed, throughout the city. On the way, they speak of different things. Father Leopold asks about the home country, work, family and religion of his new friends. When it seems opportune, he takes up delicately and discreetly the subject which is so dear to his heart: the knowledge of the true religion and adherence to the Catholic faith. The good seed has been sown; it will rise when God pleases.
This discreet apostolate began to produce fruits, when, two years after his arrival in Zara, his superiors sent him to Thiene where the Capuchins were guardians of a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Going to serve Our Blessed Mother eased the pain felt by Father Leopold upon leaving Zara. Years passed. In 1906, he was again transferred, this time to Padua. He would remain there the rest of his life. In 1922, however, he left for Fiume to hear confessions for the Slavs. His departure caused such sore regret in Padua that the bishop intervened and obtained from the Capuchin provincial that he be sent back. His Superior wrote, "Saint Anthony of Padua obviously wants you close to him."
These various events, in particular the successive transfers from monastery to monastery, seemed to contradict the intuitions of Father Leopold's youth: God did not seem to be calling him to the apostolate for Eastern Christians. However, Father Leopold was convinced that such was his special mission. After his death, an image of the Blessed Virgin was found on which he had written on July 18, 1937: "In solemn memory of the event of 1887. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first time I heard the call of God asking me to pray for and promote the return of the Eastern dissidents to Catholic unity." With his confessor's permission, he made a vow to fulfill this mission towards the Eastern Christians. He would often renew this promise, and a few months before his death, he would write again: "I no longer have any doubt before God that I am chosen for the salvation of the Eastern peoples, that is to say, the Eastern dissidents. Because of this, I must answer to the divine bounty of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has deigned to choose me, in order that, through my ministry, the divine promise may finally be realized: There will be but one flock and one Shepherd.”
Father Leopold would need many years to come to understand exactly what kind of mission it would be. But it is not his personal views which allowed him to discover them. As a man of faith, he was convinced that God's plan would be revealed through obedience. The means chosen by God would be made known to him little by little through the voice of his superiors. He also knew that the practice of obedience is more efficacious than any sermon. To give himself courage, he made a hand-written copy of the famous letter of Saint Ignatius about this virtue, which copy he always kept close to himself. Through prayer and sacrifice, he would be the apostle of the reconciliation of the Eastern Christians separated from Catholic unity, just as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face was proclaimed patroness of missions even though she never left the cloister of her Carmelite convent.
Enlightened by this view of faith, he wrote this note: "Know that the more holiness you put into your duties, the more efficacious will your cooperation be for the salvation of Eastern peoples." This recommendation is for every Christian. In his Encyclical Ut unum sint, of May 25, 1995, Pope St. John Paul II wrote: "Christ calls all His disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination Believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world's tendency to reduce to powerlessness the mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross. The Cross! An anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It claims that the Cross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man, it says, is nothing but an earthly being, who must live as if God did not exist. No one is unaware of the challenge which all this poses to believers. They cannot fail to meet this challenge" (nos. 1-2).
The Pope also exhorted Christians to work for the reestablishment of communion so that the world may believe (Jn 17: 21). The tangible apostolate accessible to all with a view toward unity is that of personal sanctification. "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart " writes the Holy Father. "Each one therefore ought to be more radically converted to the Gospel This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can rightly be called `spiritual ecumenism' " (ibid., nos. 15, 21).
Father Leopold was convinced that the dissidents would one day return to Unity. He wrote to his director of conscience: "When we priests celebrate the holy mysteries for this intention, it is Christ Himself who prays for our separated brethren. Now, we know the power of Christ's prayer; it is always heard." He discovered another pledge of this return in the deep devotion of Eastern Christians to the Virgin Mary. Such a good Mother cannot abandon them. "O Blessed Virgin," he wrote, "I believe you have the greatest solicitude for the dissident easterners. And I would like to cooperate with my whole heart in your maternal affection." All the faithful are invited to unite themselves with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to pray the Most Blessed Virgin for the reunification of Christians.
A Capuchin Brother one day reminded Father Leopold that, in the past, he spoke unceasingly of going to the East; "and now," he added, "you no longer talk about it."—"It hasn't been long," answered the Father. "Just a short time ago, I gave Communion to a very good person. After finishing her thanksgiving, she came to me with this message: `Father, Jesus ordered me to say this to you: Your Orient is each of the souls you assist by hearing confessions.' So you see, my dear friend, that God wants me here and not in the missions." Another time, he confided in a confrere: "Since God has not given me the gift of preaching, I want to consecrate myself to drawing souls back to Him through the Sacrament of Penance."
From the start of his priestly life, Father Leopold was faithful to the ministry of hearing confessions; but once he was in Padua, his confessional was literally besieged by crowds. This apostolate answered one of his childhood desires. At the age of eight, one of his sisters had scolded him for a slight fault and led him to the pastor of the parish who made him kneel in the middle of the church: "I stayed there," he would later tell, "deeply saddened, and wondering within myself: Why treat so severely a child for such a slight fault? When I get big, I want to be a religious, a confessor, and treat the souls of sinners with much goodness and mercy." This desire was fully realized in Padua.
The ministry of hearing confessions was a hard penance for him. He practiced it in a small room just a few yards square without air or light, an oven in the summer, a freezer in the winter. He remained there from ten to fifteen hours a day. "How is it that you are able to stay in the confessional so long?" a confrere asked him one day. "You see, that's my life," he answered with a smile. His love for souls made him a voluntary prisoner in the confessional, for he knew that "to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from Him for ever," and that "the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell, where they suffer the punishments of Hell, `eternal fire' " (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1033; 1035).
In order to procure the immense grace of divine forgiveness for those who came to him, Father Leopold made himself available, smiling, prudent and modest, an understanding and patient spiritual counsellor. Experience had taught him how important it is to put penitents at ease and in confidence. One of them tells this significant fact: "I had not been to confession for several years. I finally decided to go and went to see Father Leopold. I was troubled and anxious. I had just come in, when he got up from his chair and greeted me joyfully like a long-expected friend: `Please, come in.' Troubled as I was, I went to sit in his armchair. Without a word, he knelt down on the floor and heard my confession. When it was finished, only then did I realize my blunder, and so I wanted to excuse myself; but he said with a smile: `It's nothing, it's nothing. Go in peace.' This show of goodness remained engraved in my memory. By it, he had entirely won me over."
Father Leopold took care to arouse in his penitents the necessary dispositions for a fruitful reception of the Sacrament of Penance. This comprises "on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God's action through the intervention of the Church" (CCC, 1448). Among the penitent's acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again. It comprises hatred for the disorders of one's past life and intense horror for sin, according to this word: Cast away from me all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit (Ez 18: 31). It also includes "the serious intention to commit no more sins in the future. If this disposition of the soul were absent, there would, in reality be no repentance The firm purpose to commit no more sin must be founded on divine grace which the Lord never fails to give to those who do what is in their power to live honestly" (John Paul II, March 22, 1996). For the reception of absolution, it is therefore insufficient to intend to sin less, but it is absolutely necessary to be determined to no longer commit serious sin.
When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect." Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible. The contrition called "imperfect" is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner. By itself, however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.
Disclosure (confession) of sins to a priest constitutes the second essential act of the Sacrament of Penance. In confession, penitents must recount all mortal sins of which after a diligent self-examination they are conscious, even if these sins are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue (voluntary evil desires), for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly. Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of grace. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as He is merciful, and we receive "an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle" (CCC, 1496).
Sacramental satisfaction is the third of the penitent's acts. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for his sins, that is to say "make satisfaction for" them in an appropriate manner. This satisfaction is also called "penance." It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. In addition, many sins cause injustice to our neighbor and demand reparation each time this is possible: for example giving back a stolen object, reestablishing the reputation of one who has been calumniated, etc. (cf. CCC, 1451-1460). Such acts of penance help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, provided we suffer with Him (Rm 8: 17). But our union with the Passion of Christ by penance is also realized outside of the Sacrament of Penance. One day Father Leopold was asked: "Father, how do you understand these words of the Lord: Whoever wants to come after Me, let him take up his cross each day? For that, must we do extraordinary acts of penance?"—"It is not a question of performing extraordinary acts of penance," he answered. "It suffices to patiently bear the common trials of our miserable life: misunderstandings, lack of gratitude, humiliations, sufferings caused by changes of season and the atmosphere in which we live God wills all this as a means to work out our Redemption. But in order for these trials to be efficacious and help our soul, we must not seek to flee from them by every possible means Excessive care for comfort and constant search for ease, have nothing to do with the Christian spirit. That is certainly not taking the cross and following Jesus. Rather it's running from it. And whoever suffers only what he could not avoid will hardly have any merits."—"The love of Jesus," he loved to repeat, "is a fire which is fueled with the wood of sacrifice and love for the cross; if it isn't fed in that way, it goes out."
During the winter of 1941, the stomach pains which had been making Father Leopold suffer for so long sharpened, and he had to take to bed. On July 30, 1942, according to his custom, he got up early and spent an hour praying in the infirmary chapel. At half past six, he put on his priestly vestments, but was taken in by a violent discomfort and fainted. When he came back to himself, he received Extreme Unction, then repeated the pious prayers which his Superior whispered to him. At these words of the Salve Regina: "O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary," his soul flew up to Heaven, where it was received into the infinite joy of the entire heavenly Court. Leopold Mandic was beatified on May 2, 1976 by Pope Paul VI and canonized on October 14, 1983 by Pope St. John Paul II.
From the heights of Heaven, may he help us practice, by means of frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance, this exhortation of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid (4: 16). We entrust to his powerful intercession all those who are dear to you, living and deceased.
Dom Antoine Marie, OSB
This article is reprinted with permission from the Abbey of Clairval, France, which every month publishes a spiritual newsletter on the life of a saint, in English, French, Italian, or Dutch. Their postal address: Dom Antoine Marie, Abbe, Abbaye Saint-Joseph de Clairval 21150 Flavigny sur Ozerain, France. Their website: http:// www.clairval.com.
|The remains of St. Leopold that were displayed in Rome|