I met Anthony at Christ In You, a ministry we both attended. Anthony was part of the homeless ministry as well as taking part in most activities with the team. This story is about his calling into to the religious life to the Franciscan Order.
We always had these plays that the ministry would put on, Anthony usually played the part of Jesus. Our hectic schedules did not allow much time for play practice. We had the dress rehearsal just hours before the production and most of us did not know our lines, it was through the grace of God that we survived the plays. Anthony and I would practice our lines in the ministry parking lot and were rarely prepared for what lay ahead. I got to know his commitment to God with our amateur productions.
Anthony wanted a career that would enable him to help others. He was almost accepted into the Sheriff’s department, but the day before his physical agility test, Anthony injured his Achilles tendon and was out of commission. In order to become a California Highway Patrol officer, Anthony needed corrective surgery to repair astigmatism, but after six surgical procedures to correct his vision it did not meet the strict standards of the department and he had to leave the program. He tried out for the LAPD, which would allow him to wear contact lenses. However due to the multiple eye surgeries left him with scar tissue that prevented him from wearing the contact lenses. He was accepted to the Los Angeles Fire Academy but was not at peace. Before all these efforts, however, Anthony had looked into the religious life but was discouraged by the vocation directors.
Anthony remained steadfast and continued to serve God with Christ in You as well as serving as the youth director at his parish. He worked full time at the Sears warehouse, then did ministry after work, but he still believed that he was not doing enough work for God. The Sheriff’s Department , the California Highway Patrol, and the Los Angeles Police Department all closed the door to a future for him, and though he had a open door to the Los Angeles Fire Academy, there was no peace. All these trials did not change his spiritual life dedicated to finding his place in God.
He had watched EWTN on a regular basis (EWTN is an acronym for Eternal Word Television Network). EWTN was the brainchild of Mother Angelica in Irondale, Alabama, and is the largest global Catholic network in the world. Anthony was always praying about his call, and he decided to contact EWTN because they had a community of Franciscan priests. Much to Anthony’s surprise, within three days, a priest, Father Anthony from EWTN,contacted him and invited Anthony to visit the order. Anthony was subsequently accepted into the religious life.
I still remember the day he left, and though I shared in the joy of his calling, he was greatly missed. I too watch EWTN, and it was a wonderful surprise to see him assisting at daily Mass. It made my heart glad that we could see him daily on television.
Anthony never felt peace with fire department, and all the surgeries to correct his vision for the sheriff’s department only led him to minister to the doctor and his staff. At Sears he was learning managerial skills; at Christ In You he was learning counseling skills and at the parish, he was being trained to work with the youth.
Anthony was 27 years old when he entered the religious life. The first two years are in Franciscan formation, two years of basic studies, two years at the Pontificate University Puerto Rico where he studied philosophy. At St. Mary Seminary, after four years he earned his Masters in Divinity, with a minor in communications.
When Anthony received his diaconate, we were there to support him. When he was ordained a priest, we traveled back to Alabama to witness this incredible young man’s journey into the priesthood. Father Leonard Mary of the Holy Spirit was the name that he chose because there was already a Father Anthony in the small community of Fransicans. Father said he listened to a homily about St. Leonard and loved his charism.
Father Leonard had many mentors along the way, his parents Helen and Peter were his biggest prayer support as well as his older brother Peter. His mother Helen was suffering with terminal cancer, and died eight years before he became a priest. Helen always knew that Anthony would one day become a priest.
When Anthony was a teenager, Father Luke, a Benedictine was always encouraging young Anthony to attend adoration (prayer before the Blessed Sacrament) father told him the importance of reading Scripture. Anthony never forgot the great words of wisdom of Father Luke, who died in 1994. When Father Leonard was assigned to a Benedictine Parish in Baltimore, he met Father Pascal. Father Pascal is a monk from St. Vincent Archabbey Seminary, where Father Luke was assigned a deacon. Father Pascal and Father Luke were friends. This was no coincidence for Father Leonard for he knew that Father Luke was interceding for him in heaven.
Joanne, the leader of Christ In You, also served as a mentor. She knew all along that Father Leonard was called to the priesthood.
Today Father Leonard is the Chaplain of the EWTN employees, and he is head of the media, in charge of the website for the friars, which includes Facebook, Intagram and Twitter. Father Leonard celebrates Masses on a regular basis, and he can be seen on EWTN, Channel 370 DirecTV. He also does retreats and is involved in faith formation of young brothers.
Father Leonard has traveled with us to Israel, Turkey, Spain, France, Greece, Mexico, and Italy. On several occasions, he has carried the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, portraying Jesus. Expressing the same mantle of Saint Francis by carrying the cross, Father Leonard exemplifies the love for Jesus crucified. In the words, of St. Francis “There is where you find perfect love.”
Dear Lord, there are so many you have called, but they have not found their way. Father, I ask that we all search our souls for what you have waiting for us, reveal yourself to those seeking direction and grant them a peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen