Leopold (Bogdan John) Mandich was the youngest child of twelve, born in 1866, in Herceg Novi (Castelnuovo), on the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia. At the time it was a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-faith area. Both sides of his family were of noble origin and though once wealthy they lost their fortune. It was a bad experience at confession that inspired him to be a priest who would bring mercy to sinners. In 1882 he entered the seminary run by the Capuchins at Udine and in 1884 he entered the Novitiate. He made final vows in 1888 at Padua, Italy. He was ordained in 1890.
All this was despite his poor health. He was less than five foot tall, stooped, with a pallid complexion, poor eyesight, weak stomach and arthritis. His poor health meant he was not allowed to return to work in his homeland but instead was tasked with hearing confessions. he longed to work for the reconciliation of the Orthodox with the Catholics and recognizing that the way to unity was through love he dedicated his ministry in the confessional, indeed his whole life, to that end. For thrityfour years he heard confessions often for many hours at a stretch.
Community living is not easy and Leopold suffered misunderstanding, jealousy and prejudice. In the community as in the confessional Leopold strove to conquer himself for Christ or rather to let Christ conquer him and to greet each person with love, treat them with dignity and respect and share with them the compassion of the Lord.
"Some say that I am too good. 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"
He also said
"If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I'll tell him that it was He who gave me this example, and I haven't even died for the salvation of souls as He did".
Leopold would often tell penitents "Be at peace; place everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it." As he explained "I give my penitents only small penances because I do the rest myself." His room was tiny 6'7" by 4'3", an icebox in winter and an oven in summer.
He encouraged the formation of orphanages and other charitable works and promoted devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, his "Parona benedeta" or 'my holy boss'. He visited the sick frequently, in and around Padua and in the friary. Leopold believed the only death worthy of a priest was death from apostolic work! Cancer killed him in 1942. He died as the friars were singing the last verse of the Salve Regina "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!" He had been a Capuchin for sixty years, fifty-two as a priest. He foretold the bombing of the friary and the survival of his cell. He was canonized in 1983.
I have visited and stayed in the friary in Padua. I prayed in the chapel where he would pray and venerated his relics. The friars have built a little museum where one can see the tributes to Leopold from all over the world but what stands out in my mind are the lines of people waiting for confession. Leopold's ministry continues in Padua.