Friday, May 12th, we Franciscan Capuchins celebrate with great joy the feast of our Capuchin confrere St Leopold Mandić. Who was this great man so little in stature but so great in holiness?
Leopoldo Mandić was born in Castelnuovo di Càttaro (Herceg – Novi nel Montenegro) on 12 May 1866. He entered the Capuchin Friars Minor at the age of 18 and was ordained a priest in 1890. After brief stays in Venice, Zara, Bassano del Grappa, Capodistria and Thiene, in 1909 he was sent to Padua, a city which, except for some intervals, he never left until his death from a tumor of the esophagus. Saint Leopold spent almost his entire life in the confessional, with the most heroic sacrifice. He offered himself to God as a victim for the return of the Eastern brothers to the unity of the Church, was beatified by Pope Saint Paul VI on May 2, 1976 and proclaimed a saint, 41 years after his death, by Pope Saint John Paul II on October 16, 1983.
The more the Lord gives me the grace to get to know better Saint Leopold the more I realise how his life was really a living icon of the Good Samaritan, Christ our Lord. Like Christ himself Saint Leopold’s life was spent for the well being of others. First of all, Saint Leopold’s humility really struck those who met him. He surely avoided the limelight and sought to serve the Lord Jesus in total silence and simplicity of heart. Powerful are the words pronounced by Pope Saint Paul VI concerning this aspect in Leopold’s life on the occasion of his beatification:
Who is he, who draws us together today, that in his blessed name, we may celebrate the radiance of the Gospel of Christ? It is an event which cannot be described, and yet one so clear and evident, an event of enchanting luminosity, which lets us see, in the face of a humble friar, a form that is at once ennobling and amazing: look, look, that is Saint Francis; do you not see him? See how poor he is, how simple, how courteous indeed it is he, he Francis, in ecstasy through some interior vision of the invisible presence of God, and yet so present to us and for us , so accessible and ready to serve us, that he seems to know us, to await us, to know our business and to read our hearts. Look carefully, he is a poor, humble Capuchin, always in pain and of halting step, yet so incredibly strong that each of us feels himself attracted and fascinated by him. Look well through the calm Franciscan window. Do you see him? Do you tremble? What do you see? Let us say that he is a feeble, human but authentic image of Jesus; that that Jesus who at one and the same time converses with the ineffable God, with the Father, and with us, his lowly audience, limited by the measure of our small and sorrowing humanity. And what does Jesus say to this, his poor little prophet? Oh wonderful mysteries, the mysteries of the inﬁnite transcendence of God; he enchants us, and at once takes up a phrase which moves and draws us, which echoes the Gospel: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.
How many people found rest at the confessional of St Leopold! There he was, day and night, always ready to welcome everyone with that characteristic smiling gentleness he always displayed to the people who approached his confessional. Saint Pope Paul VI’s words amply portray how St Leopold was the living icon of the Good Samaritan at the confessional.
Another of his special talents was the heroism and the charismatic quality of Father Leopold; who does not know it? We refer to his ministry in the Confessional. This was his daily programme. Having celebrated Mass at a very early hour, he sat in the Confessional, and there he remained all day, at the service of his penitents. For nearly forty years he followed this way of life, never complaining. This, in our opinion, is the main title by which our humble Capuchin merited the beatiﬁcation which we are now celebrating. He attained to sanctity chieﬂy through the ministry of the sacrament of Penance. To the best of our ability we should regard with wonder and gratitude the Lord who today gives the Church such an outstanding example of a minister of the grace of the Sacrament of Penance, a man who on the one hand reminds priests of a ministry of such capital importance, such teaching value, and incomparable spirituality, and on the other hand reminds the faithful, be they fervent or tepid or indifferent, of what providential and ineffable help it offers them even today, and indeed today more than ever before, by individual and auricular confession, a source of grace and peace, a school of Christian living, an incomparable aid on the earthly journey to eternal happiness. May our Blessed brother draw to this tribunal of Penance, which is indeed austere but nonetheless a desirable haven of help, of inner truthfulness, of resurrection to grace, and an exercise in maintaining Christian authenticity, many who are deadened by the fallacy of today’s customs, many who will thus have an opportunity of experiencing the hidden and renewed consolations of the Gospel, of conversing with the Father, meeting the Son and drinking from the inebriating fountains of the Holy Spirit, and of renewing in themselves zeal for promoting the good of others, for justice, and for dignity of conduct.
Finally a detail which helps me appreciate Saint Leopold’s most tender loving care for those who are suffering, and we, as Maltese Capuchins, try to give witness to it in the service we render at Sir Anthony Mamo’s Oncology Centre, is the prayer to Saint Leopold for the health care workers which we pray there:
Dear Saint Leopold, in your service as a priest, confessor and a spiritual advisor, you have cultivated sincere esteem and authentic friendship with healthcare workers: doctors, surgeons, clinical specialists, university teachers, nurses. Like good Samaritans, they assisted and comforted the sick in hospital wards.
We pray that those who are at the service of health and human life always know how to combine professional competence with attentive availability. May they always remember that the patient is always a person to be respected in his sensitivities, fears and hopes…
O Saint Leopold, the presence of healthcare workers and hospital volunteers is similar to yours: discreet, always serene and smiling, as when you welcomed those afflicted by physical suffering or were anguished in spirit. Help them know how to infuse the spiritual medicines of courage and hope.
The main topic at the 72nd General Assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), which was held at the Vatican from November 12 to 15 2018, was the “comprehensive approval of the third typical edition Roman Missal in Italian.” (In the media much of the attention was on the new translation of the Our Father.) The Conference also decided to “establish two patron saints.” The first is St. Leopold Mandić as patron of those sick with cancer whereas the second one was Saint Rose of Viterbo, who was declared “patroness of Franciscan Youth in Italy”.
Since the 1980s, many doctors and sufferers and their families have made known their wish to be able to invoke the saint in a special way for this illness – cancer – that in our time is ever more widespread and distressing. Those promoting the request had the support of many of the faithful [the petition had 67 thousand signatures. – ed.] and highlighted how St. Leopold – who himself suffered much from this illness, facing it with peace and a spirit of trust and abandonment to divine goodness – could be a good example for those suffering cancer’s trials and an intercessor with God for the gift of healing. As has been noted, St. Leopold suffered much from delicate health, which was also the cause of his short stature (it seems he was no taller than 1.35 m) as well as a speech impediment. We know that in April 1942 he was recovering in the civil hospital of Padua, where he had been diagnosed with a tumor of the esophagus. If the Lord wants me, let him take me, he said, adding a wish: Let the Lord take me with my sandals on. For, as he said, a priest should die in his apostolic efforts; there is no other death worthy of a priest.
St Leopold Mandic, patron saint of cancer patients and living icon of the Good Samaritan, pray for us!