Archdiocese of Chicago Locators:  Parishes | Elementary Schools | High Schools
:: News and Events


Director and Founding Pastor of San Miguelito Panama Mission

CHICAGO (May 22, 2013) – Msgr. Leo T. Mahon, director and first pastor of an Archdiocesan-sponsored mission in Panama in the sixties and seventies, and pastor emeritus of St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Chicago, died Monday, May 20, at his residence in St Mary Parish. Msgr. Mahon was a priest of the Archdiocese for 62 years and was 88 years old and in hospice care at the time of his death.

He was born April 7, 1926 in Chicago and graduated from Resurrection Catholic School, Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary and the University of Saint Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary.  He was ordained in 1951 by Cardinal Stritch and served as assistant pastor at Holy Cross Parish on 65th Street in Chicago for five years before being appointed Executive Secretary of the Committee for Spanish Speaking in the Archdiocese.

He held this position until Cardinal Meyer assigned him to the Panama Project at St. Miguelito in 1963.  The mission grew into a foundational parish for the region, and by 1966, Msgr. Mahon was designated the Episcopal Vicar of the area around San Miguelito. He labored in Panama until 1975, often under threatening circumstances.  He and the other Chicago missionaries who served there were pioneers in lay leadership training and small community building.

Fr. Donald Headley, a retired priest of the Archdiocese who served with Msgr. Mahon in Panama, returned recently from that county where the evidence was abundant that San Miguelito was still going strong 50 years later.  Fr. Headley suggested the strength of Msgr. Mahon’s leadership lay in the fact that when he came into a new place he didn’t look to his past for direction, but rather to the people with whom he became totally invested, listening to them, sharing himself with them so they could reach their full potential as human beings.  “He gave the people an understanding that they were a community that could either be built up or torn town, depending on their own commitment and actions,” Headley said.

After his return from Panama, Msgr. Mahon was named pastor of St. Victor Parish in Calumet City, where he served until 1988, when he was named pastor of St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Chicago. Fr. Bernie Pietrzak, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Barrington, served with Msgr. Mahon at St. Victor.  “He was learned, passionate and full of life,” said Fr. Pietrzak, and he had a vision of the Church that was inclusive, and empowered people to reach out to the poor and the suffering.”  According to Fr. Pietrzak, one of the many groups Msgr. Mahon reached out to was engaged couples. He invited them to a retreat and stayed in contact with them so that eventually they moved into parish life as Christian leaders.

He was the pastor of St. Mary of the Woods until his retirement from active ministry in 1997, when he was named pastor emeritus of St. Mary.  He continued to live in residence there.

Fr. Greg Sakowicz, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Evanston, served with Msgr. Mahon as both a seminarian assigned to St. Victor and later as his associate pastor at St. Mary of the Woods.  “He was a wonderful, caring pastor, a visionary and very supportive, and he loved the work of the Second Vatican Council because it gave support to the laity,” said Sakowicz.  “His basic message was that the kingdom of God is here and now.  He was a joy to live with.  He loved a good joke, a good party and the White Sox,” Fr. Sakowicz added.  One of the last things his mentor said to Fr. Sakowicz in the weeks before his death was very simply, “Love the people.”

Msgr. Mahon was the author and co-author of several books; the first, A catechism of the family of God, published in 1964, was followed in 1966 by The Parish of San Miguelito, Panama Reports, which he wrote with John H. Greeley and Robert J. McGlinn. Msgr. Mahon authored Jesus and His Message: An Introduction to the Good News, published in 2000. It clearly introduced people to Jesus' life, his ministry and the times in which he lived with practical applications to present-day life and was popular with adult education groups.

Fire Under My Feet: A Memoir of God's Power in Panama, which he wrote with Nancy Davis, was published in 2007 and contained the dramatic story of his efforts to build an experimental church in Panama, often under threats from the government.

Visitation for Msgr. Mahon will take place from 1 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 24, at St. Mary of the Woods Parish, 7033 North Moselle Avenue in Chicago.  A Vigil Service will take place at 7:30 p.m.  Visitation will also take place from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 25, prior to an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass celebrated by Most Rev. John Gorman, Retired Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago.

Interment will be in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.  Msgr. Mahon’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Mary Mahon, survives him.

Return to Top