Celebrating 50th anniversary of Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy ’63, O.S.B.


(St. Benedict's Prep Archives)

Former Abbot Melvin Valvano ’56, O.S.B. sat with Father Edwin Leahy ’63, O.S.B.

Lucia Gallo, Staff Writer

On his second day of 9th grade at St. Benedict’s Prep, Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy ’63, O.S.B. knew he had found his home. His father had told him to get on the train and find St. Benedicts. What drives him to continue and stay is the community that has been built.

While attending St. Benedict’s Prep, Fr. Ed played football, wrestled, was on the swim team, and was a member of The Benedict News. He was the quarterback despite never really seeing much other than the bench. Nonetheless, no matter how much playing time he received, he never quit. After graduating he came back and taught biology while becoming a priest up until he was named headmaster.

Before St Benedicts reopened in 1972, the monks gathered to discuss who would be in the position of running the school venture. Normally, Abbot would have the responsibility of choosing the next candidate. However, this was the first time in history that the monastery had decided to hold applications for the position of headmaster. Four candidates applied: Fr. Declan Cuniff, Fr. Lucien, Fr. Albert Holtz ’60, and 27-year-old Fr. Ed. After much deliberation and pondering, the two candidates left were Fr. Ed and Fr. Lucien. The votes were in, and 50 years ago today Fr. Ed was named the director of the “new school venture”.

The title was the director because there was no initial intention of bringing St. Benedict’s Prep back. Names like “Phoenix School” and “High Street School” were in consideration but why was there a sudden change in the branding of the school? It was professional enough to be called St. Benedict’s Prep when the Germans and Italians were there, but what changed when the demographic became predominantly African-American? When the question was posed to Fr. Ed in regard to the naming of the institution, he had nothing to say but “St. Benedict’s Prep will be open.”

In 1972, the streets of Newark were filled with hatred and racism. The response was the division of the monks living in Newark Abbey. Half stayed in Newark while the others moved to Morristown for a more financially secure situation and a safer community. What drove Father Ed to apply for the position of headmaster was anger from these events, though what made him believe he could succeed was the support of the older monks. Being honored with the responsibility of rebuilding the identity of an entire school put question marks in a lot of places for 27-year-old Father Ed.

St. Benedicts wouldn’t be St. Benedicts without Fr. Ed, and Fr. Ed would not be himself without the people who work with him. Father Ed’s leadership style is cluttered and sporadic. Thankfully those around him like Father Mark and Father Albert had very different styles. Father Ed often refers to Father Albert as the brains of the operation and Father Mark as the heart of it all. Fr. Ed is able to put these ideas into practice but without the brains and the heart, it would not be possible. The compatibility of these three personalities resulted in 50 years of excellence from St. Benedict’s Prep.

Father Edwin talking with two students near the library. (St. Benedict’s Prep Archives.)

Father Ed is known for his way of connecting with the youth and also for how he challenges them on a day-to-day basis.

Sunil Das, senior group leader of 2021 says, “One of the ways he has helped me in my life was all of the pushback he gave me and the other senior leaders during my time as SGL. It taught me how to organize a group of people to accomplish a common goal, and some of those goals dealt with presenting Fr. Ed with why something was best.”

To some, those challenges may be discouraging, but thanks to the motto “Benedicts Hates a Quitter” no Gray Bee goes down without a fight. Hundreds of alumni come back every year and express their gratitude towards Fr. Ed and how he has changed their lives for the better.

Growing up at SBP, Father Ed. has always been a part of my life. From sitting with us during family dinners to presiding over the funeral mass for my grandfather when I was in the 6th grade. He is even included in my earliest childhood memories, such as epic tag games around the Leahy house with the boys living there at the time. Which nearly always resulted in me hiding behind Fr. Ed to try and win the game. Fr. Ed has been there for my family in more ways than I can express. As I grow older, his support is expressed in different ways. When I need guidance, he gives me the type of tough love that I need. There are few people in life that tell me the hard truth directly, without trying to sugarcoat it. I know that he is one of those people who will always tell me how it is.

Father Ed has taught me that life is not always going to be straightforward. Yes, there are days when everything seems unbearable. Where school and people in life fall short of expectations. No matter how hard the days are, you get up and start another one. These past three years of attending St. Benedict’s Prep have not all been beautiful days. I have struggled with hoping to exceed expectations, battling anxiety, and attempting to overcome stressful positions. In my sophomore year, I was granted the position of Freshman Leader of the Girl’s Division.

I remember sitting in Father Ed’s office and thinking “I was only a freshman last year. How am I going to pull this off, especially when everyone else on my team is a senior? ”

Father Ed said to me “You were picked for a reason, now think less about your fears and more on bringing your talents toward the community. We need you Chich.” By God’s grace, I’m able to overcome these obstacles because of all the blessings within my life. One important blessing is Father Ed’s guidance from my earliest years.

Father ed always says his proudest moments are when alumni are able to come back and introduce their children and partners to him and the staff. Not when they become millionaires or graduate college. It is when they are able to bring back the same values of the family which is established at St. Benedict’s.

When asked about his legacy the answer was simple. Father Ed responded “I don’t think about that. I am not doing this for me, I do it in the name of the community.” So how has he done it for 50 years now? By taking the focus off of his feelings and instead focusing on the needs within the community.