It’s Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, not much later than sunrise. As the man walked into his office he could only see the desk that he treasured the most and “2020” spelled out with piles of Benedict News magazines. A note was attached to his desk saying that his office has been moved to his “favorite place.” A cake would be waiting there, too, the note said.
“There is no way I’m going in there,” said St. Benedict Prep’s longtime Headmaster, Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B., who marked his 74th birthday Monday.
The so-called “favorite place” is the Publications Room where Fr. Ed’s “beloved” Benedict News operates.
Currently, the main contents of Fr. Ed’s office are located in the Benedict News’ nook in the Publications Room, located in the bottom floor of the Old Building. The items were transported there secretly over the weekend by unidentified members of the Senior Class and discovered there early Monday by members of the Benedict News staff. The space is a few minutes walk and about two sets of stairs down from Fr. Ed’s main office by the Trophy Room.
The temporarily purloined items include books, photos, a desk phone, a walkie talkie, leather chairs, a sofa, an ottoman, a chess set, a Naval Academy banner, a pink scooter, a pair of drums, and the infamous green Persian rug that collected many tears from the students who aren’t present with us today.
Every year when Fr. Ed’s birthday rolls around, the senior class pranks the Headmaster as a tradition. For a long time, the tradition was to take Fr. Ed’s desk and move it to random places. Father Ed’s desk has been taken to New York, students’ homes, the HAB pool, the roof of Cawley Hall, and every place in between.
“I think we moved his desk to the bridge when it was first built,” said Dr. Glenn Cassidy ‘90, executive director of the Vox Institute. “‘16 destroyed Fr. Edwin’s desk as their prank, and a year later, the ‘17 repaired it, ending the tradition. In an attempt to restart the tradition, the Class of 2018 tried to move the desk, but it didn’t work out so well.”
There are so many birthday pranks to remember, said David Rahaman SY, who is editor-in-chief of The Kayrix, SBP’s student literary magazine, also based in the Publications Room. “ I remember most that they used to take the desk and hide it,” Rahaman said. “But the Class of 2016 destroyed it. The Class of 2017 repaired it and ended the tradition. The Class of 2018 moved the desk again, trying to restart the tradition – then got yelled at for it.”
The Class of 2019 went a different way. Instead of moving the desk, its senior leaders destroyed a fake one for their prank and filled Fr. Ed’s office with balloons. The Class of 2020 followed in 2019’s footsteps by trying to establish its own new tradition and coming up with a new prank.
Fr. Ed is known to have a love-hate relationship with the award-winning Benedict News, SBP’s student-run publication, often calling out its editors-in-chief, Kevin Calle SY and Jonathan Dulce SY, and previous editors, at Convo and challenging them.
Knowing this, ‘20 decided to come up with a prank to move all of Fr. Ed’s office–minus his classic desk– to the Publications room because of Fr. Ed’s claim of disdain.
By Monday afternoon, Fr. Ed was persuaded to visit the Publications Room by Rodney Fequiere SY and David Rahaman SY, who are students in News Production, the advanced journalism course taught by Ms. Kitta MacPherson.
Fr. Ed entered the Publications Room with reluctance but sat down in an executive office chair, when invited by Ms. MacPherson, and agreed to be interviewed by the students. He stated emphatically that he would not look in the nook to view his belongings. “I’ll look at them when they are returned,” he laughed. The cake that had been placed there had earlier been moved by a Senior Leader to the Advancement Office where Fr. Ed and others had then celebrated with it.
Fr. Ed, speaking to the journalism class, noted he had limited time. That brief moment, however, turned into an informative talk about Fr. Ed’s birthday tradition and what it means to him.
“Nobody’s got it better than me,” said Fr. Ed, answering a student probing whether working as Headmaster is fulfilling. “Somebody, maybe, is tied with me, I guess, somewhere in the world. But no one’s got it better than me. That’s for sure.”
Another student asked his opinion of the birthday tradition. What seemed to be a simple question turned into a lesson on an historic tradition here at the Hive.
“It started in 1982,” Fr. Ed said. “The Class of ‘83, I didn’t know why they did it, but…The first year they (dumped the desk) right in the upper field,” said Fr .Ed. “One year it was in the swimming pool — they built a platform on the pool and they put the desk on top of it. One year it was at the (U.S.) Naval Academy. One year it was at the Rotunda of Newark City Hall.” Senior leaders had planned to haul the desk to Yankee Stadium one year, but “a couple of adults got wind of it and stopped it,” he said.
Fr. Ed praised leaders from the Class of 2020 for the originality of their prank. “It’s definitely in the top 10 ever,” he said. But the spot of “most creative,” he said, should belong to the Class of ‘83 for originating the idea.
After Fr. Ed’s phone kept buzzing from all the birthday texts he was receiving, he explained how it started at midnight when an alumni phoned him a quick “Happy Birthday” greeting. “Don’t ever forget that everybody wants to know that they are loved,” Fr. Ed said. “Believe me, that makes your life.”