Leon Ristuccia, OFM
1919 – 2014
Fr. Leon Ristuccia, OFM, was born July 9, 1919 in New York City. He attended St. Patrick’s grammar school in Brooklyn, N.Y., before studying under the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn at St. Francis Preparatory School. He graduated from there in 1936 and continued with the brothers at St. Francis College, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1940. During his years there, he was drawn to the priesthood. His older brother, Bernard, had joined the Vincentians, but Fr. Leon was drawn to the Franciscans.
He was received into the Order in 1940 at St. Bonaventure Friary, Paterson, N.J., where he professed first vows one year later. He made his solemn profession in 1944 and was ordained in 1945. During his formation years, he obtained a master’s degree in Latin American history from St. Bonaventure University, Allegany, N.Y.
After ordination, Fr. Leon was assigned to St. Joseph Parish, Winsted, Conn., as assistant pastor. In 1947, he was appointed vicar of the friary, serving briefly for a few years. He left parochial ministry in 1951 to become a member of the Province’s Mission Band. Fr. Leon remained in this work for the next 14 years, traveling the Northeast preaching parish missions and retreats.
He continued residing at Winsted, before moving to Holy Cross Friary, Bronx, N.Y. In 1963, Fr. Leon was assigned as preacher at the Retreat Center in Sharon, Mass. However, he decided to reside at St. Francis Friary in Brookline, Mass., as he enjoyed living with the friar community there. Two years later, Fr. Leon joined the pastoral staff of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, where his kind, considerate personality was deeply appreciated by both friars and laity.
A friar who was always deeply committed to his own life of prayer, Fr. Leon asked to join the Province’s House of Prayer in 1976 as a member of its core community. During his time in that fraternity, the House of Prayer moved from the former St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., to Warwick, N.Y., from 1978 to 1987. Fr. Leon’s welcoming presence brought much to that fraternity. During those years, he also became involved in the Charismatic Movement.
When the House of Prayer closed in 1987, Fr. Leon joined Sacred Heart Friary, East Rutherford, N.J., ministering at Anthony House, a social service center serving the poor in Jersey City, N.J. In 1989, he returned to his first assignment, St. Joseph Parish in Winsted, as parochial vicar. He quickly found the people of Winsted were thrilled to have him back and later told Provincial Minister Fr. Anthony Carrozzo “this assignment is the best thing that could have happened to me.”
He remained there until the Province gave pastoral care of St. Joseph’s to Immaculate Conception Province in 2002. He retired to St. Anthony Friary Butler, N.J., living there until he transferred to Holy Name Friary, Ringwood, N.J., in 2013.
He died on March 19, 2014 at Holy Name Friary. Fr. Leon was 94 years old, a professed Franciscan friar for 72 years and a priest for 68 years.