Courtesy Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada
Published Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 | 5:11 p.m.
Whether he was ministering to the homeless or rubbing elbows with executives in corporate boardrooms, Monsignor Patrick Leary’s quick Irish wit and sincere compassion made him friends wherever he went.
A Catholic priest for 36 years and the CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada since 2003, Leary helped guide the organization through the recession when its budget tightened while demand for its services skyrocketed.
Throughout his tenure, friends and colleagues say the affable Leary exuded a calming presence and always was willing to help out.
Inside the church, Leary was renowned for his touching sermons, which mixed personal stories and spiritual teachings into modern-day parables.
“He was an affable personality. He was somebody who could walk into a group of homeless men waiting for services (at Catholic Charities) or a group of CEOs and be able to be comfortable with either,” said the Rev. Bob Stoeckig, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and a friend of Leary’s. “I think he understood enough about human life that he could take people where they were and meet them there rather than make them hike up the hill to where he was in order to understand what he was saying.”
A tireless social activist and a gifted homilist, Leary died Friday at the age of 63.
His unexpected death has left a hole at Catholic Charities, one of the valley’s largest nonprofit organizations, where employees and volunteers still are grieving.
“It’s hard to contemplate walking into this building and not feeling his presence here,” said Patricia Trent Morrissey, president of Catholic Charities’ board of trustees. “
“He was upbeat. He always had a welcoming way about him. Most of the time he would greet you with a hug, smiling with a twinkle in his eye.”
Morrissey said Leary personified the mission of Catholic Charities, reaching out to the city’s neediest and doing whatever he could to make sure they got the services they needed.
“There was an electricity that he had. He drew people in, and he drew the goodness out of them. He was able to find it and highlight it in them. It was part of his charisma,” Morrissey said.
On Tuesday, Catholic Charities announced that Leary’s role would be filled by an interim chief operating officer, Dawn Davis, who previously served as the agency’s vice president of food services. Deacon Thomas Roberts will serve as transition administrator for the agency while a permanent replacement for Leary is sought, according to a statement.
Morrissey credited Leary with helping Catholic Charities grow and building relationships with other faith communities, nonprofit organizations and local governments to help strengthen the collective outreach to those in need.
“He was very engaged in the full community. I think that because of him, we have very significant bridges to a lot of different agencies in this valley,” Morrissey said.
Bishop Joseph Pepe applauded Leary for his “realistic and concrete spirituality” and for his ability to identify with the people he served.
“He was the ideal collaborator in the sense that he recognized everybody’s talents and optimized them so they would be successful,” Pepe said. “What Monsignor Leary was able to do was always see that little spark in there that we can light and help them become the person they should be.”
Born on March 21, 1949, in Buffalo, N.Y., Leary was ordained as a priest with the Paulist Fathers order in 1976.
He joined the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas in 1989, receiving his first assignment to serve as chaplain of the UNLV campus ministry and chaplain to the Carmelite Sisters.
In 1995, he was appointed as vicar general for the diocese, becoming an assistant to the bishop responsible for the direction of the church’s central administration. Leary was then made responsible for the leadership of the diocesan administration for nearly two years beginning in 2000, during a transition of bishops.
He joined Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada as its CEO in 2003, a position he held until his death.
Funeral Mass for Leary will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Guardian Angel Cathedral, 302 Cathedral Way. A reception will follow in Anderson Hall at the church.
Public seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Other memorials and celebrations in honor of Leary are being planned, a spokeswoman for the diocese said.
A fund in Leary’s honor has been established at Catholic Charities. Donations to the fund can be made through Catholic Charities at 1501 Las Vegas Blvd. North or by calling 702-385-2662.
CORRECTION: This version corrects the spelling of the Rev. Bob Stoeckig. | (December 13, 2012)