Thanks again to the many who have send kind notes and beautiful memories. And please, during this holiday season, keep Brother Leo's kindness in your hearts.
Below is the story:
Brother Leo Richard spent most of 65-plus years on this earth inside a darkened room called "The Cave" at Archbishop Molloy in Briarwood, N.Y., listening to men and women, young and old, black and white, the hopeful or depressed, especially around this time of the year.
This can be an especially tough time of the year for those who aren't as fortunate. But Leo would never accept the word "no." He would reach out to the needy and involve other good people in his life to help those he had encountered.
Leo did so one holiday season after discovering a young man had no money to pay his rent after getting laid off for the sixth time in the last seven years. Leo took the young man on a walk as he usually did. They circled the majestic building in Briarwood, discussing life and the misfortunes that sometimes overwhelm even the strongest of individuals.
The young man talked and talked. Leo listened and listened.
It's what made Brother Leo so special. And when Leo talked, only positive words would echo from his big chamber. They sometimes sounded like they were coming from above.
"Walk with me," Leo shouted. "Keep walking."
Leo loved to walk. And he also loved to talk. He could move rather quickly from subject to subject -- from the Red Sox to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame -- to Molloy's chances of winning a City title.
Leo would talk about the Red Sox's chances for the following year. He would explode with joy when talking about such great Molloy players from the past like Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson. Leo never really got any sympathy especially from the young man who happened to be a Yankee fan. But Leo received some support for his love for Notre Dame football and much more for Molloy since many Stanners were among Leo's walking partners. And this young man happen to be a graduate of Molloy from 1978.
Leo always kept the walks vibrant and positive. But as Leo moved along Union Turnpike with the distraught youngster, he could see the fear in the man's eyes. The young man had a real reason to have fear.
\ It was only five years earlier, after suffering a layoff, he had spent three weeks, moving on and off the "E" train to grab some sleep and shelter.
"I don't want to go back on the train," the youngster said to Leo. "I don't know what to do."
"Keep walking with me," Leo shouted in his friendly voice. They continued. In their sights was the campus of St. John's University, a place with which Leo was very familiar as well as the young man (he had graduated from there in 1983). And the campus of St. John's only sits a few miles away from Molloy High School.
Leo led the young man inside the athletic office at Alumni Hall. He stopped outside the basketball office. "Stay here," Leo said.
The young man, puzzled, stood still while Leo walked into then St.John's coach Lou Carnesecca's office. The young man waited outside for about 20 minutes. Leo's voice, normally booming and audible from about 100 yards away, was silent and could not be heard out in the hall by the young man.
Then Leo came outside and in his hands were several dollars. He quickly gave it to the young man. "Take this," Leo said. "This should help out."
"Where did you get this?" the young man asked. "I can't say," Leo said. "Maybe another time I will tell you. But he didn't want you to know. Just take it and take care of yourself."
It was several years later when Leo told the young man who helped him. So at this time of the year, it's important to remember those little gestures that are bigger than life and so very symbolic during the holiday.
So as I look skyward today and still misty from missing the big booming voice, I thank Brother Leo.
And a special shout out to Coach Lou Carnesecca. Thanks!
*To the family of Brother Leo, the novel I wrote, "Necessary Heartbreak," was written with him in mind.