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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Fr. Leo Lanigan, C.Ss.R., Redemptorist missionary pioneer in the Dominican Republic

Fr. Leo Francis Lanigan, C.Ss.R., was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, on Sept. 24, 1918, the fourth of five children, to John and Mary (O’Donnell) Lanigan. His siblings, now deceased, were Alice, John, Joseph and Margaret. As a grade school student he enjoyed serving Mass. Even in high school, St. Raphael’s Academy run by the Christian Brothers, he continued to serve at Mass. It was in high school that he came in contact with the Redemptorist missionary, Father John Shields. Fr. Leo is the last of a group of Rhode Islanders who found their way to the Congregation by the efforts, encouraging and example of a long line of great Mission Preachers. A genuine friendship grew between the two that helped Leo overcome some strong doubts about his vocation.

He probably could have tried out for the Red Sox back in those years. He was Rhode Island All-State Shortstop in the high school categories. Sports were important to Leo. He noted in his biography before his profession on Aug. 2, 1939, that he was very serious with his academics in high school… Because that would guarantee him the time he needed to spend on sports!

He was ordained on June 18, 1944 at Mt. St. Alphonsus, Esopus, NY. After the seminary he was assigned in 1945 to Vieques in what was then the Vice Province of San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1946, he was chosen to be one of the first four Redemptorists to begin our ministry at Las Matas in the Dominican Republic. The other three were +Hugh Gildea, +Bill Smith and +Bishop Thomas ’Bud’ Reilly. Back in those days, these "founding four" had precious little, except hard work and rice and beans! He remained in the Republic for the next six years and then returned to Puerto Rico in 1953. The next six years were spent in Aguadilla and Mayaguez until he was transferred to Jacksonville, FL. in the Vice Province of Richmond, where he spent the years 1959 to 1964.

Fr. Leo returned to the Province and was stationed at St. Boniface in Philadelphia, PA, in 1964. The next years were filled with "up’s and down’s" as he moved from parish to parish. In 1971, he volunteered to go to Paraguay where he remained until his transfer to St. Gregory’s in North East, PA, in 1973. With that move Fr. Leo joined a very small group of confreres who have been stationed in each of the Baltimore Province’s Missions: The Province, the Vice Province of San Juan, the Vice Province of Richmond and what was then the Vice Province of Campo Grande.

In 1986, he was transferred to the St. John Neumann Residence to recuperate. It took him the next eight years to get well enough in 1994 to move back to Florida. He remained at the Redemptorist Villa in New Smyrna Beach until Jan. 7, 2004, when he returned to Saratoga where he passed away on Sunday evening, June 11, 2006, at 5:45 PM.

Several years ago, I was stationed with Leo in the South Bronx. He was in the parish and I was on the missions. I was walking down the street passing the fire house on my way to the Perpetual Help Center. The fire chief called out, "Hey, Fadder! Do you know Father Lanigan?" He told me a story that tells a lot about Fr. Leo. The firemen were called out about one in the morning to answer a bad fire. Some guy was angry that his girlfriend was out dancing with someone else. They were in one of those illegal dance clubs on the second floor. He poured gasoline around the doorway and over the stairs and set it on fire. All the firemen could do was to pull out close to 30 dead bodies. Many were their own ages or the ages of their own children.

Police and firemen rang the door bells and phones of several nearby rectories but no one would answer their calls. One of them said "Let’s go to the Immaculate . . ." (Conception). Fr. Leo answered the doorbell at two in the morning, went upstairs to get dressed and went with them. "Father, he stayed with us taking care of the dead and taking care of my guys until five in the morning. That Father Lanigan is one hell of a priest!!!" According to the chief, this all happened a week or ten days before. Fr. Leo had not said a word to anyone about what he did!

Remember Fr. Leo Lanigan, C.SsR., in your prayers. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.