The Hidden Life of Blessed Leopold of Alpandeire

Fray Leopoldo Source Own work Author SEGARIA (wikimedia commons)

On February 12th, the Church celebrates the feast of Blessed Leopold of Alpandeire. Who was Blessed Leopold? From where does he come from? What was his vocation which opened him completely to the Holy Spirit’s workings, the Spirit of holiness?

For answers, the compass of Capuchin holiness takes us to Spain, to Alpandeire, a tiny village in the province of Málaga in southern Spain where Blessed Leopold was born on June 24, 1864 (the solemnity of the birth also of Saint John the Baptist). Not surprisingly, then, at baptism he was given the name of Francisco Tomas of St. John the Baptist. Francisco Tomas was the elder son born to Diego Marquez Ayala and Jeronima Sanchez Jimenez. His peasant parents were simple and hard working. Like father, like son, as the saying goes, so was Francisco Tomas. He perfectly copied the holy example of his parents by toiling ceaselessly in the fields while dwelling with his family. Francisco Tomas would initiate his day by participating at the Eucharistic celebration and paying a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. His life story tells us that he was so generous of heart that it was not the first time that he would give away his tools to those who needed them or offer his money to poor people he encountered as he made his way home from harvesting grapes.

His Capuchin vocation was the fruit of the celebrations in preparation for the beatification of the Capuchin Diego of Cadiz. It was here, in 1894, that Francisco Tomas felt within himself the calling to join the Capuchins. Five years later, in 1899 he was formally accepted, and on November 16th of that same year, Francisco Tomas was received into the novitiate, donned the Capuchin habit, and given the religious name of Brother Leopold of Alpandeire. At Seville Brother Leopold was given the task of assistant to the friar who looked after the vegetable garden. He spent brief stays in the friaries of Seville, Granada and Antequera and learned to change manual work as well as fraternal service into prayer.

In 1903 Brother Leopold was sent to the Granada friary, and on November 23 of the same year he made his perpetual vows. For the next fifty years, he spent his life as gardener, sacristan and questor. He trailed the dusty pathways and streets, giving the alms of love and sharing God’s goodness to everyone. He life was deeply intertwined with that of the people, who instead of being an obstacle to him aided him greatly to go out of himself, to take on the burdens of others, to comprehend, to be helpful and show solidarity to them, to the point of genuinely serving and loving them deeply.

In this one cannot fail from noticing what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote on Christian love in his first and pivotal encyclical Deus Caritas Est when he said: Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24; Jn 12:25). In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself (no.6).

Brother Leopold died on February 9, 1956 at the age of 92. On September 12, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI beatified him, calling him a song of humility and trust in God. In that famous beatification Mass, presided by the then prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Archbishop Angelo Amato, in Granada, the same Archbishop Amato observed that the city is a “fortunate” one because it has witnessed the glorious spectacle of (Blessed Leopold’s) holiness.

Moreover, archbishop Amato reminded that people sometimes insulted and threw stones at Brother Leopoldo, and once he was almost hanged. However, He got even the most anti-clerical to admit that they wished everyone was more like him. This was so because Brother Leopold taught the way of justice through his charity, humility and Marian devotion, with the testimony of his life, which was for a long time dedicated to begging, including during times of religious persecution. In his circular letter bearing the date of August 15, 2022, on Blessed Leopold of Alpandeire (1864-1956) our former Capuchin Minister General, Br Mauro Jöhri OFM Cap, wrote: For half a century, day after day, Br. Leopold went from one length of Granada to the other, distributing the alms of love, lending colour to the sad days of many, creating unity and harmony, leading all to meet God and lending dignity to everyday tasks. Every action of his, every approach to the people, was always something new.

Br Paschal Rywalski, likewise a former General Minister of the Capuchin Order, said of Blessed Leopold: There can be no doubt that to meet Br. Leopold is to be immediately fascinated by him, because he is simple, natural, without pretence, sincere and upright and evangelically poor. Here is a poor man, full of faith and without guile, simple and discreet, who always found a way of staying in the background, serving anonymously and humbly. A man with the heart of a child, noble and frank, courteous and composed …the heart of an honest peasant. He was extremely reserved and modest about any good that the Lord worked through him, and became disturbed when people praised him: he rejoiced in humiliations and always retained a lively awareness of his limitations and sins. He would often repeat: “I am a great sinner”One spark of genuine gospel inspiration results in our seeing and valuing our fellow creatures from God’s perspective. Br. Leopold knew very well the famous saying of Saint Francis: “What a person is before God, that he is and no more” (Admonition 19)”.

O God, our merciful Father, You called Blessed Leopold to follow in the footsteps of your Son Jesus Christ on the way of humility, poverty, and love of the cross; grant that we may imitate his virtues, and so be admitted with him, to the banquet of the kingdom of heaven: through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Previous articleContact Your Member of Parliament! Vote on Monday to Abolish the Mandates
Next articleSixth Sunday: The Inimitable Joy of the Beatitudes
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.