August 26, 2018

Blessed Among Us
JOHN LEARY (Peacemaker 1958-1982)

On August 31, 1982, John Leary was jogging home from his job at the Pax Christi Center in Cambridge to Haley House, the Catholic Worker community in Boston where he lived. This day he did not complete the trip. Without warning he went into cardiac arrest and died instantly. He was twenty-four years old.

In subsequent days his friends were joined not only in sorrow at the brevity of a life cut short but in wonder for all he had accomplished and the many lives he had touched. As many knew, while studying at Harvard, John had divided his time between peace work and community life among the poor at Haley House. But he had also worked with prisoners, the homeless, the elderly. He had engaged in protests over the draft, capital punishment, and abortion. He regarded all these issues as joined in a “seamless garment.”

The turning point in his life was his discovery of Jesus’ non-violent way of the cross. Inspired by figures like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, he was drawn to integrate a very traditional spiritual discipline of prayer and sacrament with compassionate engagement on behalf of a suffering world. He attended daily Mass as well as Sunday liturgies at the Byzantine Rite Melkite Cathedral. It was his custom to recite the Jesus Prayer as he jogged, and it is likely those words were on his lips when he died.

“John became in his short life the complete and total man for others, and those who knew him and loved him testify to the love of Christ that shone in and through him.” -Rev. Peter Gomes, Harvard Chaplain