Interview With Father Edwin Leahy – Catalyst Atlanta 2016

Today, I’m live blogging from the Catalyst Atlanta Conference. Catalyst is a gathering of leaders to hear from some of the best and brightest in leadership.

Catalyst’s theme for 2016 is Uncommon Fellowship.

If the live updates on my site aren’t enough, you can also watch Catalyst Live here.

The last speaker I’m live blogging from Catalyst Atlanta today is Father Edwin Leahy.

Father Edwin Leahy speaking at Catalyst Atlanta

Image courtesy of Catalyst


Host: What is your background?

Father Leahy: I grew up in an all-white community. I was involved in the church. Every time there was something needed at the church, my parents told me to go do it.

Host: Explain to us what the life of a monk looks like?

Father Leahy: The best way to describe what we do is that we fall down and get up. We try to live in a community and love each other. And we pray around the clock.

Host: You worked at the school and it closed. Then it reopened. Can you tell us what happened?

Father Leahy: It basically boiled down to racism. But the public reason was given as financial issues.

Host: Tell the story of the one gentleman who was impacted by the reopening of Saint Benedict’s Prep.

Father Leahy: When we restarted the school again, we were going to do something else. It wasn’t going to be the school. Our thinking was to help the African American community. But we were wrong in thinking that.

Host: A majority of the students in the school are minority students. Talk about the reality of creating the culture of what’s happening there.

Father Leahy: It’s clearly owned by the African-American community, the Hispanic community…

Host: Talk about the culture of the school.

Father Leahy: The kids run the school day-to-day. The leadership is in the hands of the students. Then there’s 8 guys who are responsible for the operation of the school.

We have our own vocabulary at the school. There’s no faculty or students. Everyone has different roles but we use a different language.

Host: Talk about the reality of most of the students, in regards to their family lives.

Father Leahy: Well, family life is a huge challenge in our city. Many students are living in single-family homes. And a lot of that is due to the fact that we incarcerate much of our population. So it’s a huge, huge challenge for people of color to deal with. Because of that, we try to create an atmosphere where the kids are in charge. They’re learning leadership and community.

Host: What’s the process of students moving up?

Father Leahy: When you come to the school, regardless of your age, you are referred to as a beginner. Then you move on to a member. You move up by being judged in three areas. Then, they have to hike a part of the Appalachian trail.

Host: What’s the ultimate success metric of a student or leader you want to create?

Father Leahy: Most people would think the school is preparing students to go to college. That’s not the end goal. It’s there to prepare us to enter into glory.

What we’re trying to do is accompany students through this dangerous part of their lives.

How do we know that we’re being successful? Mother Theresa said: I wasn’t called to be successful, I was called to be faithful.

But one of my benchmarks is when a former student comes back and introduces me to their kids or their wives.

Host: I want to ask you a kind of random question: If you were the secretary of education in the USA, what would you do?

Father Leahy: I’d focus on building community. It’s the most important thing we can do. Kids need to feel safe and secure.

Host: The elephant in this room that a lot of us are struggling with is that I’m a certain race, or I grew up in a certain neighborhood, or in a certain setting, what would you pass on to those of us who are going I want to be a part of the solution but I don’t know how?

Father Leahy: What you need to know is that the power lies with those are white. The African-American community is looking for someone to join their voices with their cause. There’s something that happens when a different voice speaks about the injustice.

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