THE LIFE OF SAINT LEOPOLD

traduzione di Katherine Hutton

1. THE LIFE OF SAINT LEOPOLD

 Leopold was born into a Croatian Catholic family in Castelnuovo di Cattaro (the present day Herceg-Novi in Montenegro) on 12th May 1866, the last but one of sixteen children of Petar Mandić and Dragica Zarević. At his baptism he was given the names Bogdan Ivan (Deodatus John).

His paternal great-grandfather, Nicholas Mandić, was originally from Poljica, in the archdiocese of Spalato (Split), to where his ancestors had come from Bosnia, back in the 15th century.

At Castelnuovo di Cattaro, at that time in the Province of Dalmatia, part of the Austrian empire, the Capuchin Franciscan friars of the Province of Venice had been active since 1688 when the area was under the rule of the Republic of Venice.

 His religious vocation

Spending time with the friars, both during religious functions and at after-school lessons, little Bogdan expressed his desire to become a friar. For the period of his discernment, he was welcomed into the Capuchin Seminary at Udine, and subsequently on 2nd May 1884 at 18 years of age, he began the novitiate at Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza). Here he took the Franciscan habit, received the name of “Brother Leopold” and dedicated himself to following the rule and the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.

From 1885 to 1890 he studied philosophy and theology in the friaries of Padua (Santa Croce) and Venice (Santissimo Redentore). In those years the religious formation he had received from his parents took definitive shape from his study and knowledge of Holy Scripture and Patristics, and through his development of a Franciscan theology. On 20th September 1890, in the basilica of the Madonna della Salute in Venice, he was ordained priest by Cardinal Domenico Agostini.

 His missionary and ecumenical aspiration

Of keen intelligence, Fr. Leopold Mandić had a good training in philosophy and theology and for the rest of his life continued to read the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Since 1887 he had felt himself “called” to promote the union of Eastern Christians, separated as they were from the Latin Catholic Church. With a view to returning to his native land as a missionary, he dedicated himself to learning a number of Slav languages, as well as some modern Greek. He asked to be sent to the eastern mission in his homeland, in pursuit of that ecumenical ideal, to which he vowed himself and which aim he followed to the end of his life, but his superiors did not grant his request. Indeed, due to his frail physical condition and a speech impediment, he was unable to devote himself to preaching.

His first years thus passed in silent seclusion in the friary in Venice, where he heard confessions and carried out humble tasks in the friary, as well as carrying out door-to-door collections.

In September 1897, he was given the task of running the little friary of Zara in Dalmatia, but his hope of realising at last his missionary aspirations did not last; he was recalled in August 1900 to Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza) as a confessor.

He had a brief period of missionary activity in 1905 as vicar of the friary of Capodistria, in nearby Istria, where he proved to be a much appreciated and sought-after spritual counsellor. But once more after only a year, he was recalled to the Veneto, to the sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Olmo at Thiene (Vicenza). From 1906 to 1909 he served there as a confessor, with the exception of a brief stay in Padua.

 His arrival in Padua

In the Spring of 1909 Fr. Leopold arrived in Padua, at the friary in Piazzale Santa Croce. In August 1910, he was nominated to the role of director of studies, that is to say he was in charge of those young friars preparing for priesthood who were studying Philosophy and Theology.

These were years of intense study and dedication. Fr. Leopold, who taught Patrology, differed from other lecturers in his kindness, which some considered eccessive and not in keeping with the traditions of the Order. It was probably for this reason that in 1914 Fr. Leopold was suddenly withdrawn from teaching. This was a new cause of suffering for him.

Thus it was that from autumn 1914, when he was forty-eight years old, Fr. Leopold was asked to devote himself exclusively to hearing confessions. His gifts as a spiritual counsellor had been well-known for some time, so much so that within a few years he became sought-after as a confessor by people from all walks of life, who came from beyond the city to see him.

 Leopold is sent to the South

Closely attached as he was to his homeland, Fr. Leopold had retained his Austrian nationality. His choice, motivated as it was by his hope that his identity documents would help him return there as a missionary, became a problem in 1917 with the Battle of Caporetto. As for other “foreigners” resident in the Veneto, he was subject to police investigation and because of his express wish not to renounce his Austrian citizenship, he was sent beyond Florence to the margins of the south of Italy. In Rome on his journey southwards he also met Pope Benedict XV

He reached the Capuchin friary of Tora (Caserta) at the end of September 1917, where he was to pass a period of political exile. The following year he was sent to the friary at Nola (Naples) and then to Arienzo (Caserta).

At the end of World War 1 he returned to Padua. On his journey he visited the sanctuaries of Montevergine, Pompei, Santa Rosa at Viterbo, Assisi, Camaldoli, Loreto and Santa Caterina at Bologna.

He settles finally in Padua

On 27th May 1919 he reached the Capuchin friary of Santa Croce at Padua, where he assumed again his old role of confessor. His popularity increased despite his shy manner. The Annals of the Venetian Province of the Capuchins state: “In confession he demonstrated an extraordinary attraction to the highest levels of culture, a fine intuition and particularly a sense for the sanctity of life. Not only did working people flock to him but also intellectuals and aristocrats, lecturers and students from the university, secular clergy and members of religious orders.”

In October 1923 his superiors transferred him to Fiume (Rijeka), after the friary there had passed to the control of the Venetian Province. But only a week after his departure, the bishop of Padua, Mgr. Elia Dalla Costa, responding to the desire of the laity, asked the Provincial Minister of the Capuchins, Fr. Odorico Rosin da Pordenone, to bring him back. Thus it was that by Christmas of that year Fr. Leopold, in obedience to his superiors and abandoning his dream of working in the field for Christian unity, found himself once more in Padua.

He stayed in Padua for the rest of his life. Here he passed every moment of his priestly ministry in administering the sacrament of confession and in spiritual direction.

On Sunday 22nd September 1940, he celebrated his golden jubilee, that is to say the fiftieth anniversary of his priestly ordination, in the church of the Friary of Santa Croce. Widespread, spontaneous, universal and large demonstrations of sympathy and regard for Fr. Leopold demonstrated how profound and significant his work of had been in fifty years of ministry.

His health got progressively worse in the last months of 1940. He was taken into hospital at the beginning of April 1942; he had not realised that he had a tumour of the oesophagus. He returned to his friary and continued to hear confessions, even though his condition continued to get worse. As was his usual habit, he passed 29th July 1942 hearing confessions without pause, then passed the greater part of the night in prayer.

At dawn on 30th July, as he was preparing to celebrate Mass, he fainted. He was carried back to bed where he received the Sacrament of the Sick. A few minutes later, as he spoke the final words of the prayer, Hail Holy Queen, he raised his hands and breathed his last. The news of the death of Fr. Leopold spread quickly through Padua. For two days a long queue of people came to pay their respects to the body of the confessor at the Friary of the Capuchins. His funeral took place on 1st August 1942, not in the Capuchin church but in the much more spacious Santa Maria dei Servi. He was buried in the main cemetery in Padua, but in 1963 his body was translated to a chapel of the Capuchin church in Padua.

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