Whether he is speaking English or French or Spanish, you can’t miss the slight Italian accent. Recently appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal Frank Leo grew up in the Villeray area. It was here, close to Little Italy, that his parents had decided to settle immediately after arriving from Naples.
Source - Translation of an article by Brigitte Bédard
He was ordained in 1990 at the age of 25 and has never had any doubt about his vocation. At the age of 12, he tells us, in the parish at Notre-Dame-de-la-Consolata church at Jean-Talon and Papineau, he made the two most important realizations of his life.
“I realized that everyone has two vocations. The first is the universal call to holiness. The second is the personal vocation, meaning the path leading to that holiness. I understood then that my happiness, my fulfilment, my reason for being and the whole meaning of my life depended on this second vocation and on how seriously I was going to devote myself to it.”
Seriously, though, Frank Leo is serious. But it is always with a kindly, affectionate smile. This is a man who loves the sacred. As he himself says - in total seriousness - “The sacred is God himself. Make no mistake, no kidding around…,“ and then breaks into a laugh.
A youthful calling
The desire to understand his vocation consumed him. Young Frank went to Mass every Sunday, knowing it to be the day set aside for God.
“I knew it in my head, but this was a very intense religious and spiritual experience. Jesus was number one, not two. This intuition was very clear. Powerful. I began to pray, especially the Rosary. I wanted the Lord to reveal to me what his will was for me. That was when it all started. By the age of 15, I knew I wanted to be a priest.”
“This was in the 1980s. But you might say it wasn’t trendy to become a priest… and it still isn't;” at this Bishop Leo makes a wry little smile. Then, after a pause: “I wasn’t following the trend,“ he comments now with a straight face; “and I still don’t.”
- “You were in another world?”
- “I could say that,” he replies, thoughtfully. “I was very happy in that world. I had friends who respected me a lot, both in high school and in college.”
He was inspired by the priests in his parish. Everything they did was done with so much love that all he wanted was to follow their example.
“They were very close to the people, very devout. Everything they did was for the Lord. They were dedicated men with a deep reverence for Mary. They were close to young people and to families. They were always creating ways to attract people to Jesus, and they were very active. The community prayed a lot. This was the time of the charismatic renewal movement, which was very strong on ministry and the sacraments. I didn’t belong to the movement, but I was encouraged by the prayers of so many people. It was a living community, filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. It was an immeasurable grace to have been able to grow up in such a healthy and holy environment.”
For young Frank, the priesthood was a very meaningful life, a life of abundance. He wanted that life: the life of Jesus. Still today, a priest for him is one who can always be counted on. A life given to God for his people. Present at every stage in the life of his community. The one whose door is always open, who is inspired with the spirit of guidance: a real father.
Like a father
Bishop Leo puts it simply: a priest is not a bachelor. He is married and he’s a father, just like real fathers with their families. In fact, it was fathers of families who helped him greatly, through their sense of responsibility and sacrifice, their respect for the family, and they still help him today in his vocation as a priest.
“Dads often put themselves second or third, so that they can put their wives and children first. Getting up early and going to work for the benefit of their families... If they can do it, with all the difficulties that involves, then I have to do it, too - for my wife - the Church, and my children - the people of God.”
To give oneself exclusively is the meaning of Jesus’ celibacy. Bishop Leo adds,
“Jesus could have decided to get married, but he had a bride, the Church. He was entirely devoted to the mission that the Father had entrusted to him. For a priest it’s the same thing. I am a married man and a father, so that means no nonsense. The priest is not some 18-year-old kid, he is not a single man or a confirmed bachelor. He has heavy responsibilities.
And as a bishop? “When you become a bishop, you receive a ring – this is very significant. You are still serving the same Jesus, the same Kingdom, the same Gospel. The difference is leadership. You become an apostle. You have to have a maternal kind of leadership.
“How do you mean maternal?”
“You can’t practise an apostolate unless you have the heart of a mother. Paul VI wrote about this in Lumen Gentium. Anyone engaged in the apostolate must do so with a maternal heart. He did not use the word ‘paternal.’’’
Acting like a father. Loving like a mother. This sums up very well the life and priesthood of Bishop Frank Leo, this man who wants to act and love like Jesus.