Fr. Leonard Mary: Finding Peace in Jesus

We are blessed today to have the opportunity to hear from Fr. Leonard Mary. Fr. Leonard’s story is inspiring on many fronts, notably for those who may be discerning religious life. It was in the silence and lonely periods of his life, that he came to discover his true calling, a vocation to serve our Lord and others as a priest. Off we go…

Fr. Leonard, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with Catholic Bros.  We are blessed to have this opportunity.     

Fr. Leonard:  You’re welcome!  Thank you for your digital outreach and the inspiring digital content you produce.

Most Catholics recognize EWTN, but perhaps, may not know about the connection between the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word and EWTN.  We’d love to hear more about this connection and the history of your founding.   

FL:  While founding the Eternal Word Television Network in 1981, Mother Angelica thought about starting a Franciscan men’s community to serve the spiritual needs of EWTN.  This idea came to fruition on May 2, 1987.  We were first called the Missionaries of the Eternal Word.  In 1994 we became the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word.  Since our establishment in 1987, we serve the network sacramentally and provide employees with chaplain services.  Our friars also assist with studio productions and greet pilgrim visitors. 

The mission of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word is to spread the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith through word and example.  What is your personal faith journey?  What led you to become a friar and how did you arrive at this vocation? 

FL:  I was blessed to have devout Catholic parents. They participated in parish activities, attended bible studies and prayer meetings.  In my early teenage years, I made a choice to have a personal relationship with Jesus and to serve Him.  People would tell me to think about becoming a priest.  Before my confirmation in 1991, I chose St. Francis as my confirmation saint and name.  His love for Jesus and radical living of the Gospel inspired me.  Toward the end of my high school years, I had other career interests like becoming a firefighter or police officer.  Though I continued serving the Lord and praying devoutly, living a lifelong celibacy seemed impossible.  I attended community college and worked a full-time job while dating on and off.  In my early twenties I moved out of my parents’ home.  Life was extremely lonely.  Not long after, I was in a serious relationship.  The young lady prayed with me and we attended Mass every Sunday together.  However, I felt something was missing, had little peace but was content not being lonely.  Nine months went by.  She was now talking marriage. I was not ready for it.  One December evening in 1999, I was watching Mother Angelica Live on EWTN.  She spoke about the struggles of lonely people.  Her message captivated me.  She said something that forever changed my life, “If you are alone, you are alone with God.”  As I heard this, I immediately thought about all the times when I wasn’t dating anyone.  I then realized I was happiest and had the most peace when I was alone with God.  It was at that time I knew a vocation to the priesthood was possible.  My girlfriend and I ended the relationship a few months later.  I then become more involved at my parish and the lay missionary group I had been a member of for the past six years.  About a year later, my weekly schedule was working 8:00AM to 5:00PM Monday through Friday and going to church after work.  My weekends were spent at the parish or doing some kind of missionary activity.  It wasn’t enough.  I wanted more of God’s love and desired to give myself more to Him.  It was then I knew it was time to pursue a vocation.  I contacted the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word in May 2002 and visited that July.  Everything went well and I could see myself living the life of the friars.  I entered the community October 4, 2002. 

It has been 8 years since Mother Angelica’s passing in 2016.  Since then, EWTN has strategically advanced its offerings and seemingly exploded in worldwide growth.  What has been role of your apostolate in this growth, and, what do you think Mother would say about the state of Catholic media in 2024?    

FL:  The friars and Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration nuns offer prayers daily for EWTN.  This prayerful support keeps the network operating and growing.   Most of our service at EWTN has been in providing for its spiritual needs.  Our priests are regularly available to assist the EWTN employees and their families.  Daily we celebrate the televised Mass at 7:00AM CST, a noon Mass Monday – Friday and confessions are at 11:00AM Monday – Saturday. 

Mother Angelica would most likely be very happy to see many Catholics involved in media.  Several Church media organizations were inspired by her.  She did everything for love of Jesus.  One of her greatest desires was to spread His saving message throughout the world. 

In a world where we are inundated with media messages to the point of noise and distraction, how should Catholics approach and leverage social media in faith development?    

FL:  Its wonderful to see many Catholic individuals and entities spreading the faith via social media and other online mediums.  God truly uses these messages to speak to us and educate us.  However, media can be a cause of distraction and over consumption.  Like everything else, moderation of media even Catholic is necessary.  We all need quiet time with Jesus and to strengthen and deepen our relationship with Him.  Online inspirational words and prayer tools help but the Lord calls us to Himself.  He wants to listen to us and desires us to rest on His heart and listen to Him.  Sadly pride enters into media production.  Creators can often become consumed with wanting more followers and engagements.  The content then becomes sensational, focused on conspiracy and controversy.  This often leads people to anger and fear.  Consequently, focus on God and trust in His promises and providence is weakened.  Catholics should find what inspires, educates them in the faith and leads them to prayer. 

We are curious, the Friars all have last names of “Mary”.  For example, Fr. Leonard Mary, Fr. Joseph Mary, etc.  Can you explain the meaning and history behind this naming? 

FL:  In the founding of our community, we realized the importance of Marian devotion.  We are hers and place ourselves under her motherly mantle for intercession and protection.  Our way of honoring the Blessed Mother is in consecrating ourselves to her and her name to ours. 

What is one thing that most lay Catholics would not know about the Friars?

FL:  Most people know the friars from EWTN.  They see our reverent devotion and liturgical celebrations.  The friars are also human.  They enjoy many outdoor and indoor recreational activities.  Some of us like gardening, cooking, doing arts and crafts.  We watch and talk sports and movies. 

In closing, what advice do you have for Catholics struggling to maintain their faith journey or those who are not Catholic but seeking truth? 

FL:  Jesus knows our struggles.  He sees us trying and knows we desire holiness.  The Lord understands the trials and troubles of humanity.  Jesus Christ is Divine, Lord and King. He is also a man, a brother and God who calls us friends.  He is always ready to forgive and strengthen us.  We can easily forget these simple truths.  The book of Hebrews says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.   Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). 

Fr. Leonard Mary, MFVA comes from East Los Angeles, California.  Before religious life, he attended community college part-time, worked for a department store for seven years, served as a lay missionary and was active at his local parish.  He entered the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word in October 2002 and professed final vows on August 14, 2008.  He was ordained to the diaconate on May 21, 2011 and completed his theological studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary on May 4, 2012, earning a master’s in divinity.  He also has a master’s in communication management from the University of Southern California.  Fr. Leonard was ordained to the priesthood on June 2, 2012, and serves primarily in Irondale, Alabama.  He is the Community Servant (Superior), Director of Communications and Director of Formation for Temporary Professed Brothers.

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