Fordham Prep Honors John Leonard and Others

On Friday, November 20, 2009, my high school, Fordham Preparatory School, will induct Rev. John J. Leonard, S.J., and 18 others, into the Hall of Honor.  For those of you who don't know Fr. Leonard, he has been a major force in keeping theater alive at Fordham Prep and Fordham University all these years through the Dramatic Society at the Prep and the Mimes and Mummers at the University.  The Prep named its state-of-the-art new theater building after him.  The Leonard Theater is a testimony to his many years of service in the theatrical arts.

I've had the pleasure to work with Fr. Leonard during my high school years during which I performed in eight productions.  When I went to Fordham University, I worked as an actor and stage manager in a number of shows with the Mimes and Mummers, and the troupe owes much to him. 

When I was in graduate school, I interviewed Fr. Leonard.  He told me that the first play at the University was in 1855 (long before his time, of course) and the theater group was known early on as the St. John's Dramatic Society and then the Fordham University Dramatic Association.  The first known reference of the name "The Mimes and Mummers" is from a program for The Mistakes of a Night in 1921.  During my interview with Fr. Leonard in 1998, he said:

"The Mimes and Mummers started in 1921 and went on for 20 years to 1941.  And then because of the war, it was discontinued.  I arrived as a seminarian in 1944 and was asked to take care of the theater building itself.  In 1946 I reactivated the Mimes and Mummers."

He did more than just restart the Mimes, he also got written permission from Rome to allow women to appear on stage in Mimes and Mummers productions before the University became co-ed.  Then Fr. Leonard went on to teach at Fordham Preparatory School where he also worked with students through the Fordham Dramatic Society.  He explained his vision for the theater programs:

"When I wrote the constitution for the organization and published it in the Fordham Ram, the University newspaper, I saw the purpose of the Mimes and Mummers as threefold:

One, to give students a sense of belonging to the University;

Two, to have confidence in whatever they were doing, whether it be backstage work, doing publicity, or appearing on stage;

Three, for those who acted, to give them a chance to face an audience, to be prepared for a later day if they became lawyers, judges, union leaders, and so forth.  If anyone does go on to professional theater, TV, or film, that would be icing on the cake."

Now, the Mimes and Mummers are autonomous, the students make their own creative decisions, and the Jesuit priest who helped revive it all decades ago is overjoyed to see their progress.  And Fordham Prep's Dramatic Society continues to produce fantastic shows that delight audiences every single year.

The 2009 Hall of Honor Dinner will take place on November 20 at 6 p.m. at the Garden Terrace Room of The New York Botanical Garden. 

Here is the full list of this year's honorees:

Bernard J. Daenzer `34
Dwight D. Darcy `63
Rev. Vincent J. Duminuco, S.J. `51
Rev. Mallick Fitzpatrick, S.J.
Earl "Zev" Graham
Rudolph L. Hanish
Rev. Thomas C. Hennessy, S.J.
James G. Kane `44
Thomas F. Leahy `55
Rev. John J. Leonard, S.J.
Rev. Horace B. McKenna `16
James P. Melican
Joseph H. Moglia `67
Most Rev. Martin Neylon, S.J.
William T. O'Donnell `43
Eugene J. Pabst `60
Norbert W. Sander `60
Michael K. Stanton `50
Rev. Victor R. Yanitelli, S.J, `33

You can sign up for the event on-line at And if you can't attend but wish to make a contribution in honor of Father Leonard, please consider sponsoring one of his fellow Jesuits to attend the dinner.