Fr. Leo Day in Culpeper

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This "letter to the editor" by Calvin "Chip" Coleman, mayor of Culpeper, appeared in the July 8 edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent. It is reprinted here with permission.

As we mature, a father figure affects who we are and who we want to be. Whether as a youngster or an adult, a father guides us, molds us, builds our character and impacts our lives in so many ways.

I can think of no father figure providing more impact and who standing taller than Catholic priest Father Leo Zonneveld.

After 33 years, Father Leo, as he is affectionately known, is stepping down at the age of 77 as the shepherd of his parish at the Precious Blood Catholic Church. He is retiring to Arlington, leaving behind many friends and a legacy many would envy.

Father Leo is credited with helping the church grow and prosper in so many ways.

When Father Leo came to Culpeper in 1979, Precious Blood Catholic Church's tiny congregation totaled 139. Today, the congregation boasts 1,100 families.

Like a shepherd tending his flock, Father Leo remains responsible for many firsts for the church and its phenomenal growth.

Father Leo was the inspiration for the opening of the Epiphany Catholic School in 1997. Ten years later, the tax service building along North East Street was purchased to become a school annex.

Under his leadership, Father Leo orchestrated the construction of a new parish hall with classrooms, a new church and a new rectory. He also engineered land purchases for much-needed additional parking. The church now owns one entire block.

However, one of his crowning achievements was having the church debt-free by 1995.

Father Leo has touched so many lives during his tenure in Culpeper. His good deeds have been felt by many, regardless of religious affiliation.

How does he touch so many lives? Just ask what it meant to patients when Father Leo made more than 3,400 hospital visits. Ask the 243 couples he married, the 1,597 people who received their first Holy Communion, the 1,044 people baptized, the 286 funerals presided over, the 143 confirmations or perhaps the countless parishioners he counseled. Ask the parishioners who saw him celebrate 13,728 Masses through the years. Finally, ask those who he worked with at the Hospice of the Rapidan or the Food Closet.

The list goes on and on.

Precious Blood celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1992 with Father Leo at the helm.

Father Leo has accomplished so much. But his one disappointment is that he never saw the church build a campus for Epiphany Catholic School on property the church owns on Madison Road near the Baptist Retirement Home. Even though the property lies fallow right now due to a down economy, some day Father Leo's dream of a new school will grow in that rolling field. And once again, his leadership, wisdom and foresight will be felt.

Not only did the church develop and thrive under Father Leo's guidance, but also he used his green thumb to grow some of the most beautiful flowers in the spring. Being a native of Holland, who was raised on a bulb farm, Father Leo knew something about obtaining bulbs for the church grounds and how to make them grow. He meticulously tended to his flowers.

It's not surprising that Father Leo's last day at work would be in the pulpit ministering to his parishioners and leading his final Mass as the church's pastor.

When Father Leo arrived in 1979, he had to fill the "big" shoes of his predecessor Father Maurice duCastillon. A waitress in an Orange restaurant where he was having lunch with another pastor commented to Father Leo not to worry about filling Father duCastillon's shoes, to walk in his own.

By all accounts, Father Leo filled his own shoes admirably.

And I can't think of a more fitting way to honor such an admired man of the cloth than to proclaim today, Sunday, July 8, Father Leo Day in Culpeper.

Please thank Father Leo for his service to his church, his congregation and to our community.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012