Brother Leo Richard spent most of 65-plus years on this earth inside a darkened 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 can be an especially tough time of the year for many, Leo would never accept the word "no." He would reach out to those struggling and involve other good people he knew to help 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 the young man on a walk as he usually did. They circled the majestic 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.
"Walk with me," Leo shouted that day.
Leo loved to walk and talk 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 talk 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 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 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 moving on and off the "E" train 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."
"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 was several years later when Leo told the young man who gave him the money. So at this time of the year, it's important to remember those little gestures that are bigger than life and so very symbolic during the holiday.
So as I look skyward today, still misty-eyed from missing the big booming voice of Brother Leo, I wish I could hear it one more time in the cave. I wish for one more walk. I wish for one more opportunity to tease him about his Red Sox.
Thanks Leo for your love.
Thanks Coach Carnesecca for your kindness.
*The kindness continues. It was a couple decades later when Molloy and St. John's graduate Anthony Ziccardi of Simon & Schuster bought the book rights and published my story, "Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness." It was written with Brother Leo Richard in mind as was the followup, "Everybody's Daughter."
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 did for me many years ago.
Author Michael John Sullivan is an author living on Long Island. He is the author of Necessary Heartbreak and Everybody's Daughter. He is currently working on the last book of the series, The Greatest Christmas.