Leo died last week.
Some people of a certain stratospheric level of greatness in their fields are sometimes known by their first names alone. To many folks in the archdiocese of Chicago and in Panama, this is the case with Leo.
To those of you who don’t know, Leo is the Right Reverend Monsignor Leo T. Mahon ( I think that is the correct official clerical title). "Leo" to his adherents. Every great person has his adherents. I am one of Leo’s.
Sadly, many of the one-name people in the world get their fame and greatness in fields of human endeavor that really don’t make much difference. "Michael" could drive, rebound, score and make everyone else around him better at basketball. Yes, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we just had better offensive rebounding?
Leo made people around him better, too, at life.
Father Leo Mahon was a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. After his first assignment at Holy Cross parish in Chicago, he was named by Cardinal Stritch to head an experimental missionary project in Panama. He was a pioneer in organizing, training, and community building often under some threatening circumstances.
His next assignment was to be the pastor of St. Victor parish in Calumet City. Here he used the same techniques he honed in Panama in suburban Chicago. I, along with the faculty of St. Victor School, was on the first retreat — soon to be known as Jubilee Weekends. I, along with many of my colleagues, was quite reluctant to give up a perfectly good weekend for a religious activity. But for me, along with many of my colleagues, it became one of the most important weekends of my life.
It’s hard to explain in this short column how this and all the weekends that followed, made such a huge impact on so many people of the area. Let me just say that Father Leo was able to take the religion of my childhood, which wasn’t working too well for me anymore, and make it meaningful and relevant.
Once people let Leo explain and show the relevance of faith in their lives, he empowered them to do likewise. He taught us how to hear the Gospel and understand it in the context or our lives so that we might live the Gospel. He did that better than anyone else before or since.
Leo left St. Victor in 1988 and was pastor of St. Mary of the Woods on the North Side of Chicago. I’m sure he worked his magic there, too. His name is on a huge parish building that went up during his pastorate there. He retired as an active pastor in 1997 and lived at St. Mary’s.
For a long time, he was afflicted with a debilitating nerve disease that slowly robbed him of his mobility and eventually, of his life. I visited him several months ago. He was bed-ridden and nourished by a feeding tube. He could barely raise his hand to shake mine. His body was ravaged, but his mind, his wit, his memory, his insight, his humanity ... all were intact.
Leo loved the people. He believed in the people. He empowered the people. He was of the people.
Thank you Leo. Rest in peace.
A GLORIOUS DAY
Congratulations to my son, Dan. He now has in his possession a bachelor of fine arts degree form the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. He’s worked hard, has done some excellent service work with his fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, and has produced some really cool art. He hopes to get into the field of art therapy. He already has two commissions for paintings, and if you're looking to get in on the ground floor of a future master, let me know.
Thanks for reading.