On May 12, Franciscans celebrate the memory of St. Leopold Mandic of Castelnuovo (1866–1942), a Capuchin friar famous for his dedicated ministry in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Bogdan Mandic was the twelfth child born to a Croatian couple in the town of Herceg Novi (Castelnuovo) in what is now Montenegro, on the Dalmatian coast of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Italian Capuchins had staffed a church in his hometown since the 1600s when the area was ruled by the Venetian Republic.
The town of Herceg Novi, Montenegro, birthplace of Saint Leopold
At age 16 the young Bogdan left home to study at their minor seminary in Udine, Italy. He was received into the Order in 1884 and given the name Leopold. Despite many physical handicaps—he was only 4’5” tall, walked with a limp, and spoke with a stammer—he was gifted with a keen mind and developed a great inner resilience.
Saint Leopold as a young friar at time of ordination
Leopold desired greatly to be a missionary in his homeland and work for the reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but his physical limitations prevented this. Other than two brief stints in the Balkans, he spent most of his religious life in Italy as a merciful minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially in Padua where he was stationed for over 30 years.
In his later years Leopold suffered from crippling arthritis but still spent up to 12 hours a day in the confessional. He finally developed esophageal cancer which led to his death in Padua on 30 July 1942.
Saint Leopold as an elderly friar whose crippling arthritis is evident.
Canonized in 1983 by John Paul II, St. Leopold is hailed as an apostle of Christian Unity and as a patron of confessors and cancer sufferers. Pope Francis brought his remains to Rome for veneration during the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. At that time, the late Fr. Michael Crosby, OFM Cap., wrote a very nice introduction to the saint: https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/saint-mercy
The Capuchin church and friary in Padua today, now dedicated to Saint Leopold
During World War II, the church and part of the friary where Leopold lived were bombed and destroyed, but his room was untouched. He had actually predicted that before he died, saying, “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.”
Some people say that I am too kind. 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.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.