Father Dan Leary leaves parish life to be chaplain to Sisters of Mary serving poor children around the world
Jul 6, 2020
Father Dan Leary has left serving as pastor at his Silver Spring, Maryland, parish, St. Andrew Apostle Catholic Church, to embark on a journey to bring hope and the Gospel to the poorest of the poor in communities around the world.
"I'm very happy here and very much at peace, but I know that God is asking for something more from me, so I wish to respond as best as I can," he told the Catholic Standard in an interview.
In early July, Father Leary, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, will begin serving as chaplain to the Sisters of Mary, an order of women religious founded in 1964 by Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, a missionary priest from Washington, D.C., whose cause for sainthood is under consideration. The more than 370 sisters have ministries in seven countries where they provide children and youth with a safe place to live and learn, evangelize them in the Catholic faith, and provide career and vocational training to help them and their families rise above poverty after their high school graduation.
Father Leary learned about the ministry and visited with them for a summer during his seminary years, and the experience stayed with him.
"It left an incredible impact on my life because of the conversion and hope that they gave to the children, because they wanted to give them an opportunity to live a different life, to have a new life in Christ, and a new life in their families," he said. "I saw such beautiful graces given to the children, and that's what touched my life."
The Sisters of Mary educate and serve youth from neighborhoods in extreme poverty in the Philippines, South Korea, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras, and Tanzania. Father Leary's first assignment will be in Chalco, a poverty-stricken community in Mexico; from there, he will travel in between countries as needed.
And as he leaves behind the comfort of suburban life, when Father Leary talks about serving the poor, he speaks with joy.
"I always wanted to serve the poor, and I found different expressions of it, because I believe Christ is in the poor, that's where we find the truest presence of Christ, in the materially poor and also in the spiritually poor," he said.
Deacon Steve O'Neill, who serves at St. Andrew Apostle, has seen the fruits of Father Leary's passion for bringing the love of Christ to others and for being present to those in pain or need. He cites as examples, the parish mission trips to Haiti and Jamaica that Father Leary organized, and Healing Masses offered for those in need of physical or spiritual healing.
"What struck me from the moment I met Father Dan, was how he's not just open to following the Holy Spirit, he depends on the Holy Spirit," said Deacon O'Neill. "It's clear that it's not his personal agenda or interests he's following. He is discerning God's will in each moment and following it to the best of his ability. It's clear that this openness is what's carrying him to the Sisters of Mary and those they serve."
Most recently, during the temporary closing of parishes due to the pandemic, Father Leary went on to organize a drive-in Eucharistic Adoration opportunity in the church parking lot and a fundraising walk for the poor. And when he received an unexpected, heaven-sent donation of thousands of loaves of bread, he managed to distribute them to centers and pantries that serve low-income families in the Archdiocese of Washington.
"Many times he has said, and more importantly shown that a good father has to be willing to be 'last off the field' if he is to help his children grow in the same charity in their own lives," said Father Mario Majano, a parochial vicar at St. Andrew.
Father Leary's work among the immigrant Spanish-speaking community at Misión San Andrés, the Spanish speaking mission of St. Andrew Apostle, has been a sign of that outpouring of love toward people in need, added Father Majano.
When asked what he wants people to remember or pray for, Father Leary had a simple message.
"Remember the poor, remember their sufferings, remember that we can help them, and we can make a difference in their lives. We must do so sacrificially," the priest said. "The reality is that when we are looking for solutions in the culture, the real answer is how we treat the poorest of the poor. So, we have to love them and enter their struggle and their pain, lift them up and bring them to Christ."
The Sisters of Mary assist more than 20,000 children each year. They go to remote communities to offer their programs to families. Some of the students profiled in their website videos live in subhuman conditions, next to landfills, and in makeshift shacks with no floors or furniture.
However, the nuns are already reaping the fruits of decades of hard work, seeing some of their 150,000 graduates return as adults to serve as religious sisters or teachers.
"God's provident love has given us Father Dan. A priest who understands, embraces and lives the spirit of our founder," said Sister Maria Cho, superior general of the Sisters of Mary.
The writings of their founder, Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz, also known as "Father Al," deeply inspired Father Leary’s love for the poor.
"One of the things about Father Al is he made the Gospel very simple for me," Father Leary said, as he quoted the words of Father Al:
"'Jesus chose to be born in poverty; Jesus chose to live in poverty. Jesus chose to die in poverty. So, we must do everything that Jesus did.' [It's] that simple," Father Leary said.
(The website for World Villages for Children offers information on the legacy of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, the Sisters of Mary and how to support their service to poor children around the world.)
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