A funeral Mass was said yesterday in St. Ignatius Church for Rev. William J. Leonard, SJ, noted Jesuit theologian and author and founding curator of the Boston College Liturgy and Life Collection, who died Feb. 12 at the Campion Center in Weston at age 91.
Fr. Leonard was among a small group of Americans who, well before the Second Vatican Council, promoted a renewal in Catholic liturgy and its overflow into Catholic life. He attended Vatican II as a liturgical advisor, advocating the saying of Mass in the vernacular rather than the traditional Latin.
Yet after the Second Vatican Council ushered in sweeping and profound changes in Catholic liturgical devotions, Fr. Leonard founded the Liturgy and Life Collection as a storehouse for the artifacts of the old ways. With thousands of missals, prayer cards, statuettes and other Catholic religious items, the collection at Burns Library has been praised as a comprehensive guide to 20th-century American Catholic life.
Fr. Leonard, born and raised in Dorchester, entered the Society of Jesus in 1925 and was ordained a priest in 1937. He joined the Boston College Jesuit Community in 1939, teaching for 34 years in the Theology Department, which he chaired from 1965 to 1969.
In 1925, his Boston College High classmates prophesied that Bill Leonard would be a letter carrier, a "white-collar job," they called it. They were right - but his white collar would be a Roman one, and he would be a man of academic letters.
Fr. Leonard used the sobriquet as the title of his 1993 autobiography, The Letter Carrier, a memoir that offers a rich description of Jesuit life as well as a chronicle of the liturgy before and after the Second Vatican Council.
William Leonard, SJ
One of 18 Jesuits from BC to enlist in the military in the Second World War, Fr. Leonard served as an Army chaplain in New Guinea and the Philippines, an experience he recalled in another memoir, Where Thousands Fell.
Interment was in the Jesuit Cemetery in Weston. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Campion Health Center, 319 Concord Road, Weston, Mass., 02493.
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