John Emmett David Leonard was born to John Emmett Leonard and Mary Ann Walsh on December 30th, 1948, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. He was brother to Mary Agnes (Mary A), Mary Anne, Mary Frances (Fray), Mary Joan, Mary Colette, Mary Kathleen (Deen Deen), Mary Dorothy and David (Beppo). From his home base on Dahlia Street, he spent his formative years pillaging Denver’s storied Park Hill neighborhood, while simultaneously repenting at nearby Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. In the spirit of Christian giving, his mother sent her son and his energy to the great state of Texas for his high school years, where he attended St. Anthony’s Catholic High School in San Antonio. There he was the leading tackler on the football team two years in a row. To their misfortune the fledgling Denver Broncos failed to take notice, so off to the army it was for (too) young John, quite literally as he enlisted at the age of 17.
After completing basic training at Fort Hood, John eventually found himself at Templehof Air Base in West Berlin, Germany, where he pulled “the best duty in the army”, taking classes to become an air traffic controller while also playing defensive tackle for the U.S. Army Berlin Bears football team. Perhaps following a victory, he enjoyed a particularly lively evening on Berlin’s famed Kurfürstendamm Avenue. At the end of the night, while his thirst was sufficiently quenched his appetite remained, and no plate glass window was to stand in the way of him and a succulent rotisserie chicken spinning inside a nearby delicatessen. Reclining upon the street curb, feasting mightily upon the chicken, the authorities soon arrived to greet John and were quick to decide that his defensive skills would now best be applied in the lush jungles of Vietnam.
John completed one tour in Vietnam in 1968-69, working as a helicopter mechanic, dodging mortar fire, playing cards, surviving a helicopter crash, dodging additional mortar fire, and finally departing perched atop mail bags stuffed into one of his well-maintained helicopters. He felt no need to wait for the roomier transport set to leave the next day. To honor his service, his name is engraved on the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial in Fruita, Colorado.
Though the return path was a bit winding, John was back in his native Colorado by 1970, and while finding his bearings he also found Katherine (Kathy) Kilpatrick of Boulder, whom he married in 1971. At the end of the year their first child Margaret Maureen was born, and by the end of the decade they were blessed with son Luke (1976) and daughter Elizabeth (1979) and had settled in exclusive Aurora. In 1980 their son Eamon arrived, a redhead. They had no more children after this.
Fatherhood and work consumed John throughout the 1980’s, a packaging salesman by day, a Kool-aid drinking, flatulent father by night. When not travelling for work, he told his children “Robby Robin” stories and sang them lullabies, one in particular, at the end of each night.
In 1992 John and Kathy divorced. Though always a churchgoer, this hardship sparked a more earnest search for the Lord and led him to find his community in the Neocatechumenal Way. While his love for the Lord grew exponentially in the Way, little did he know what other love it would lead him to find. In 2002, while on a pilgrimage to see Pope John Paull II at World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada, he first set eyes upon Maria Yudelka Valdez, a beautiful Dominican who was quick to brush off his advances. But John would not be deterred and on May 12th, 2006, he and Maria were married.
For John, Maria proved to be perfecto. Steadfast in her faith, he now had a partner to walk side-by-side with him in the Way. She matched his headstrong spirit with a fiery one of her own, always quick to push back when he went too far, at times sending a picture frame or two in his direction to be sure he understood. He did…eventually. Growing up in the Dominican, Maria loved music, baseball, and food. Could it get better for John? Yes, actually, as he became stepfather to Maria’s two children, Carlos and Karla.
John spent the last 15 years of his life fostering his love for the Lord, an imperfect man seeking to serve a perfect God. This effort took him all over the country, as well as outside it, for many years until he and Maria settled in Englewood, Colorado in 2016, just a few blocks from St. Louis Catholic Parish, where he managed the parish office until the day he fell ill. He died peacefully in the presence of God and with Maria at his side on March 25th, 2021.
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