• I Can Still Hear His Booming Voice

I can still hear his booming voice!

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.


38 thoughts on “I Can Still Hear His Booming Voice

  1. smarinopa@gmail.com'Steve M.

    I had the fortune of having THE Brother Leo Richard in my life as well, and I cannot agree with every statement here more. thank you

  2. timjegle@hotmail.com'Tim Jegle

    Brother Leo made us all good caring people – young men and women came from him better people. I love him and Bro. Ron to this day! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Tlagan68@gmail.com'Thomas Lagan

    Beautiful words, Michael. Leo passed in my senior year, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, no human being on this planet, my parents excluded, had more of an effect on my life than Leo. When I was alone, and felt like I had nobody, Leo was there. I’d live to share stories and writings (I stumbled upon things I had written during my senior year…a poem, a letter to Leo, etc.) A man like Leo, his life was dedicated to helping thousands like us. Thank you for writing and sharing.

  4. ElizabethMorrissey@outlook.com'Elizabeth Morrissey

    I too have fantastic memories of that special man. S.M.I.L.E. (Something More In Life’s Experience) helped me grow and I will always have a piece of Leo within me. (Class of 1986)

  5. mco901@aol.com'Michael Contino '68

    Brother Leo’s favorite advice “To thy known self be true” Great advice on living a positive and productive life. Thank You

  6. donjirak@gmail.com'Don Jirak '72

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful memory. Leo was a powerful influence on me, as well. I can hear his voice loud and clear to this day.

  7. buddyfl@verizon.net'George Byrne (Molloy Class of 1970)

    Anyone who has the pleasure of interaction with Brother Leo is richer in life because of it…he and all of the faculty at Molloy gave me (I’ll speak for myself) a truly balanced and comprehensive education…not just subjects and test and school related activities; and not just the typical high school curriculum…but they taught me how to be good person, how to accept the harsh realities of the world I would face as adults and how to overcome obstacles, how to have Faith that when times didn’t seem to be going very well and to believe that God had other plans for me, how to treat me fellow man with love and compassion, and most of all how to be true to myself and not to be swayed in my actions by Group-Think…thanks Brother Leo for always being there!

  8. pcvelicrpac@aol.com'Patrick Cvelic

    If it wasn’t for brother Leo I probably would not be who I am today nor where I am today. I remember my times in the cave crying and getting all the emotions out into the open which had handicapped me for years prior. He was always there, always listening, always with caring words. My sophomore year I failed out of the school academically due to the many issues at home. Leo knew of my situation and somehow managed to keep me there. I turned it around academically at that point and 20 years later I am a Physician Assistant in a busy ER in NC with a wife and daughters that I adore. I work hard every day to make a difference in my patients lives, sometimes for the hopeless a smile, a hug even, and always a positive message. I received his message of hope years ago and now I try to do the same when I can. As I sit here I remember brother Leo’s love of storms. It is cloudy outside the rain is pouring, and in the background you can hear the thunder rattling…I have to smile after reading your wonderful article Mike.

    1. Michael john Sullivan Post author

      Wow. What an inspiring story Patrick. I’m grateful Leo was there for you too. Leo was the first person to tell me I had value as a person. I’ll never forget it. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

  9. jjegon13@msn.com'Joseph Egan (Molloy Class of 1989)

    Mike – I really love this piece. It is getting so much play right now among Molloy alumni on facebook. I would just direct anyone who is reading or posting that there will be a SMILE 50th Anniversary Celebration at the school on Saturday, March 21, 2015. We will be honoring Brother Leo, Brother Ron Marcellin, Brother Regis, and a few others who were integral to the founding of the program. Many of their families will be in attendance. Registration will be up soon on the school’s alumni website and more details will be found in the Beehive e-Newsletter and the Molloy facebook page. Now if we can get Lou C. and Peter V. to attend this great event…that would be something.

  10. Pingback: The Beehive – 11/26/14 – Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. Pkuchuki@gmail.com'Paul Kuchukian '62

    I was lucky to have Leo for home room. I never eat a potato without thinking of him and how he pronounced it. He and Terrance were both giants in every sense of the word.

    1. davidjlyons@comcast.net'Dave Lyons '62

      I was in the same home room as Paul. All that Paul and has been said about Brother Leo resounds frequently in my memory. The one thing that I remember most about him was his enthusiasm for life. Nothing was beyond his enthusiasm – Pizza, football, teaching, etc. I have tried to live that philosophy throughout my life. Brother Leo’s word’s and examples in this area have served me so very well in the dark moments of my life. Thank you, Brother Leo.

      One of his favorite areas of enthusiasm was New England lobster. He talked about it many times in class and each time had everyone’s taste buds lighting up like a Christmas tree. As thanks for the this special year we spent under his guidance, the class of 2F brought two live Maine lobsters which we presented to him in a water filled tin bucket on the last day of school. It was probably one of the few times this extraordinary teacher was speechless.

  12. sisabre@aol.com'Ryan Contino ('96)

    Leo was very influential to more than one generation of Continos. I am the older son of Michael (’68.) As a S.M.I.L.E. counselor, he taught me that it was my responsibility to help others, to pass on all that he taught me. As a teacher, I have always strived to instruct the kids the way he instructed me, with my heart. I like to think that I have passed on a little bit of Leo to my students. For me, he is still here. I will never let him go. I have never walked alone, because he is with me.

  13. mbyrne@silverfirm.com'Michael Byrne

    Thanks for sharing that story. Entering my senior year at Molloy, I had never really felt connected to the school until one day during a fire drill. As I shuffled outside, I heard Brother Leo’s voice and was unnerved that he was talking to me. He said, “Michael, I dare you to do something for just one day.” I even more shocked that he knew my name. “Smile, for just one day, all day.”
    I brushed off the idea as stupid and went about my day. But, it was an idea that wouldn’t go away. So, I tried it. I went from being an unapproachable lonely kid to being embraced by people around me in a matter of hours. He empowered me to change my relationship with the world. It was the best advice I have ever received. I thanked him with a smile whenever I could.

    Thanks again for remembering this giant of man and for sparking my own memories of him.

    1. Michael john Sullivan Post author

      Thanks for sharing that great story Michael! I was just thinking about Brother Leo today. I was trying to help a college student find a job and connecting her with someone who could help. I could hear Leo’s booming voice encouraging me 🙂

  14. davbakou@yahoo.com'Bill Byrne

    I shared a few adventures with Brother Leo (Ted as we called him) as a fellow Brother (Brother William Martin). I wrote a tribute to him entitled “A Smile or Two for Ted.” Anyone interested can email me at davakou@yashoo.com.

  15. Hskeggs@hotmail.com'Howie Skeggs,Class of '69

    Thanks Michael for sharing a great story. I also was inspired by Br. Leo being on the track team in the ’60’s.
    As a Freshman in’66 I was a little skinny 98 lb boy who was given a few motivational talks by Br. Leo as one of my track coaches.He helped keep me focused as I would become one of Molloy’s top 880 yd. runners of all time and earn a full track scholarship to St.John’s and to a very successful career in Banking. Thanks Br.Leo for inspiring me some 48 years ago.


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