By Carol Pirog
St. Rose de Lima Parish
Once upon a time……..
I start this reflection with “Once upon a time” because surely a life so exemplary can’t be real, it must be a fairy tale. No one who didn’t know Msgr. Leo would believe, that that level of love, honesty, integrity, loyalty and faith could be contained in one man.
Many years ago, I was walking the perimeter of the St. Rose Cemetery. As I walked in a clockwise direction, an elderly man simultaneously walked counter clockwise. As we approached each other and came face to face, we would smile, nod and continue on. After doing this three or four times, I finally stopped, and said, “We might as well introduce ourselves, I still have another half mile to go.”
I said, “My name’s Carol and I’m from St. Rose. The elderly gentleman shook my hand, shared his name and said I’m from St. Rose too. I said “oh then you know Msgr. Leo”. He said “Know him?, me and Fr. Leo are like this, (crossing his fingers to indicate a tight bond). To me, that one moment sums up the essence of Fr. Leo. No matter who you ask, no matter what their age, no matter how long they have known him, a day, a year, a lifetime, they are certain that they and Fr. Leo are like “this”. He treated everyone as if they were his close personal friend and as a result everyone welcomed him into their lives, their hearts and their homes.
Msgr. Leo was the preeminent teacher to all he ministered to. But I had the unique opportunity and privilege to be his teacher for the past five years, and it became the nickname he would often call me. Upon his retirement, we met multiple times a month to teach him whatever computer skill he wanted to learn. And since his brother Ronnie was destined to push him headlong into technology, my classes often included iPods, digital cameras, cell phones, Palm Pilots and whatever new gadget hit the market.
My most memorable “teaching experience of him” though came before retirement while he was still pastor here at St. Rose. I was in a meeting and he broke in and said Carol can you come and see me in my office before you leave I have a computer problem. When I walked in his office and said, what seems to be the problem he said “watch this”. He slams his fist on top of the computer monitor and it goes blank. I started to say something and he says..wait ..wait…watch. He slams it once again and it goes on again. He turns to me and says, see what do you think, I look him square in the eye and laughing said, well for starters you need to stop doing that.
I tell that story because I guess in some ways that sums up what Fr. Leo was for us. He was the guy who in his own gentle way would thump our hearts and heads when we veered off into a behavior that took our eyes off God, and we questioned why life was hard, and remind us…”for starters you need to stop doing that”.
Is this the end of the fairy tale…….well no because you know how those stories end….
… and he lived happily ever after!