LEOPOLD BOGDAN MANDIC
Memorial: 30 July
Born: 12 May 1866 at Castelnuovo, Dalmatia (Bosnia-Hercogovina)
Died: 30 July 1942 at the Friary, Padua, Italy
Beatified: 2 May 1976 by Pope Paul VI
Canonized: 16 October 1983 by Pope John Paul II
As I mentioned when highlighting Jonathan Prejean’s Zubizantine blog, I enjoy “discovering” less “mainstream” sources of piety and learning. (The same goes for my taste in pop culture, which is almost always repelled from the most hyped things towards more “alternative”, underrated albums, books, movies, etc.) Well, I have unearthed a little (and relatively little-known) saint who has gained a great place in my heart: Saint Leopoldo of Castelnuovo, O.F.M. Cap. (1866-1942).
I first met St. Leopoldo in James Likoudis’s 1992 book, _Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism_ (p. 122-123). It sounds silly perhaps, but what first grabbbed me about St. Leopolod was his downright dwarfish cuteness. Without any disrespect intended, he looked like an adorable little Capuchin doll! As I learned later, he stood only four feet five inches and was generally physically undersized. Now, St. Leopoldo’s “cuteness” was a function of his smallness, but his smallness, his feebleness, was and is integral to his charism: precisely because he was so minute, so disarming, so unthreatening, so very weak, St. Leopoldo relied all the more on the power of God; people recognized that much more easily the tremendous strength at work in such an incongruously weak vessel. In his smallness (as well as in his many physical sufferings throughout his life), St. Leopoldo shared in the sufferings of Christ, who was God self-emptied, wounded and *made small* for our salvation.
At any rate, something in St. Leopoldo’s wizened eyes stared out at me from Likoudis’s book, and I could never forget him, those riveting old eyes, particularly since one of Leopoldo’s chief vocations was aimed at the reunion of the Eastern Churches with the Catholic Church. His affinity for the Eastern Churches was significant for me because at the time, I had not decided whether to become Orthodox or Catholic. Once I became a Catholic, the desire for full ecumenical reunion burned in my soul; indeed it is now one of my own special vocational “passions” as well. One day I remembered hazily “that little Italian priest” in Likoudis’s book also had something to do with the Othodox-Catholic ecumenism. So I hunted for his picture – and was immediately riveted once again by his eyes. They spoke with the same miniscule might. Then I re-read Likoudis’s comments about him.
Saint Leopolod of Castelnuovo ... had offered his life and works to God for the restoration of his beloved Easterners to Catholic Unity. Only one year before his death ... he had written of his special charismatic mission in the Church:"I have the East always before my eyes and I feel that God wishes me to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries ... so that the great promise of one fold and one Shepherd may in due course be fulfilled. And it certainly will be. ... God moves his ministers to apply his merits to the Eastern Dissidents, so that He is praying for them to the extent that we celebrate the Sacred Mysteries for that intention. That means, then, that He Himself is praying through us, and we know from His own words that God the Father always answers His prayers. The great event will therefore infallibly happen. My task therefore is to work toward the realization of this great prophecy."
Of course, no acquaintance with St. Leopoldo would be complete without discussing his “apostolate of penance.” Aside from being known as the “Apostle of Unity,” he is also known as the “Apostle of Confession.” Welcoming, healing, absolving, consoling and counseling sinners in the confessional was the core of St. Leopoldo’s outer life. I knew then and there this little Capuchin was a true patron saint for me. He put a face on ecumenism and confession, both of which were two aspects of being Catholic I have had to embrace despite Protestant biases. I frequently ask his intercession to help me cut the snares of sin with the knife of humility and penance and to withstand the onslaught of sin in the stronghold of the confessional. Hence, I have decided to add St. Leopoldo to FCA’s patrons and heroes (in sidebar). Allow me, then, to give you the giant tale of little Leopoldo (as provided primarily by the Catholic Forum and James Likoudis in "Apostle of Unity and Reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox: Saint Leopoldo of Castelnovo, O.F.M. Cap. (1866-1942)".
Padre Leopoldo was born at Castelnuovo of Cattaro in Dalmatia (the Croatian part of modern Yugoslavia and also where St. Jerome was born) on May 12, 1866 of a very ancient Bosnian noble family. The last of twelve children he was christened Adeodato Bogdan [Mandic Zarevic], which means "gift of God." ...
On November 16, 1882, he entered the strict Capuchin Seminary of the Venetian Province at Udine. He was 16 years of age. In 1884 he began his novitiate at the Capuchin Friary at Bassano del Grappa, and took the name of Fra Leopoldo. ... On June 18, 1887, while still a student in Padua, Padre Leopoldo first received the mysterious call to pray and work for the reconciliation of the dissident Eastern churches to Catholic unity. ... On August 21, 1914 (and again on August 3, 1928) he added: "The object of my life must be the return of the Eastern Dissidents to Catholic unity. ... It was in 1935 at the Seminary in Vicenza that he wrote: "...In the grace of my vocation in favor of the Eastern Dissidents, I bind myself to a vow that from now on the whole purpose of my life shall be to obtain that as soon as possible the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that there shall be one fold and one Shepherd shall be true of the Eastern Dissidents." Finally, on October 20, 1888, he made his Solemn profession at Padua as a member of the Venetian province. ... On September 20, 1890, he was ordained priest to the joy of his devout mother and father by Cardinal Agostini at 'Santa Maria della Salute' in Venice.
He hastened to make known to his superiors his desire to work in the Eastern European missions for the return of dissident Eastern Orthodox to the Church, but in view of his frail constitution and poor speech, they thought otherwise. (Throughout his life Padre Leopoldo suffered from defective articulation: however carefully he tried to pronounce words —even at Mass—, they came pouring out in a rush — to his great embarrassment. ... Not permitted to preach, the diminutive Capuchin occupied himself with being useful — hearing confessions. Thus began his marvelous apostolate as an Apostle of the Confessional which extended over a 50 year period....
Then, from 1906 – except for a brief enforced absence in prison during World War I because he would not renoucne his Croatian nationality – St. Leopoldo, as Likoudis says, “rivaled the celebrated St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars in a life of constant prayer, mortification, and suffering in the confessional.” As St. Leopoldo himself explained, "Since God has not given me the gift of words for preaching, I want to dedicate myself to bringing souls to him in the confessional." On another occasion he said, "I am like a bird in a cage, but my heart is beyond the seas." Leopoldo was "[a]lways there, for 10, 12, or even 15 hours a day, never thinking of rest or relief, always suffering (from a variety of illnesses). ... Seeing the Crucifix, he would repeat to himself, ‘I shall remain too, till I can do no more, even unto death, for souls are of more value than my poor life.'"
Interestingly, his fellow Capuchin, Blessed Pio da Pietrelcina had the greatest esteem for Padre Leopoldo, and after the latter's death invoked him with veneration. ... Though appartaining to the Capuchin order, these two spiritual giants never knew one another personally, nor ever exchanged a letter; but they remained intimately united in the mysterious ways of the mystical life, both having consecrated themselves to the salvation of souls through the Sacrament of Penance.
Much of St. Leopoldo’s emphasis on confession was rooted in his clear understanding the “battle lines” in the service of Christ the King:
"The Kingdom of Satan, which began with Adam's sin and will end with that of the last sinner, is nothing tangible, but exists within man so long as he has a mortal sin on his soul. The whole world of irreligious people gives allegiance to Satan and in this sense he is said to be the prince of this world. It is against this supreme enemy of the Gospel of Christ that we are called to fight."
Already known and venerated by large numbers of people in Italy and in his native Yugoslavia, particularly Slovenia and Croatia, St. Leopoldo is invoked in Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece and other Middle East countries. ... St. Leopoldo of Castelnovo was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1983. His Feast day is celebrated on May 12.
... "A Saint has died" was the cry of the entire city of Padua when Padre Leopoldo entered into the rest of the blessed on July 30, 1942 [due to esophageal cancer -- EBB]. The words of the Salve Regina were on his lips when he died: "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary."
 Interestingly, St. John of the Cross was also very diminutive, standing a mere 4 feet eleven inches. As Jesus said, “The least among you shall be the greatest ... [and] who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Lk 9:48; Mk 10:15).