Brother Leo Richard spent most of 65-plus years on this earth inside a dark room called “The Cave” at Archbishop Molloy in Briarwood, N.Y., listening to men and women, young and old, black and white, as well as the hopeful or depressed.
While this can be an especially tough time of the year for some, Leo would never accept the word “no.” He would reach out to those struggling and involve other good people he knew to help and support the unfortunate.
Leo did so one holiday season after discovering a young man had no money to pay his rent after getting laid off. Leo took him on a walk. Leo loved to walk. Leo loved to talk. They circled the majestic high school building in Queens, 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 the heavens.
When Leo talked it was done in a furious pace. He would move quickly from subject to subject — from his beloved Red Sox to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame — to Molloy’s chances of winning a City basketball title.
Leo would chat about the Red Sox’s chances of winning the World Series. 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 regarding the Red Sox since many Molloy students were either Mets or Yankees fans. But Leo received some support for his love for Notre Dame football.
Leo always kept the walks vibrant and positive. But as Leo moved along Union Turnpike that fateful day with the distraught youngster, he could sense anxiety. The young man had a good reason to have fear.
It was only five years earlier he had spent part of a winter homeless, riding the “E” train at night to grab some warmth, 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. I have no money.”
“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 that is located only 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 head 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.
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 would be several years later when Leo told the young man who gave him the money on that day. So at this time of the year, it’s important to remember those little gestures that are bigger than life and very symbolic of Thanksgiving.
So as I look skyward today, still misty-eyed from missing the big booming voice of Brother Leo, missing our walks and talks, wondering how it would have been if he met my daughters, I talk to him again, today. I wish Leo I had one more chance to tell you how much I love you. I wish I could tell you how much you meant to me, how I cherished our time together. I wish for one more chance to sit in the cave and laugh. I wish for one more opportunity to tease him about his Red Sox.
Thanks Leo for your love.
Thanks Coach Carnesecca for your kindness.
May you have someone like Brother Leo Richard in your life when you are wounded emotionally.
May your Thanksgiving be blessed with family and friends who love you.
May compassion run deep in your heart this holiday season as it does for me.
Michael John Sullivan is an author living on Long Island. He is the creator of The SockKids. May your socks keep you warm this winter.