A spiritually uplifting account that serves as spiritual reading this Lent.
This happened 100 years ago - 23 February.
While moving to anyone who would dedicate the time to read it, I encourage those of you with young ladies and gentlemen at home to print this out and have them read it. Your children can only benefit from this.
In Cordibus Iesu et Mariae,
Most Rev. Dennis McCormack, S. I.
A Modern Martyr of the Eucharist
by Rev. William Jenkins
Fr. Leo Heinrichs and Saint Therese’s Communion Rail
Father Leo Heinrichs knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament in his parish church to prepare for Sunday Mass. At 5:30 a.m. on February 23rd, 1908, the new pastor found Saint Elizabeth’s Church in Denver, Colorado, still shrouded in the chill darkness of a winter’s night, illuminated by the flickering of the parishioners’ votive candles. Slowly the faithful began to file into the tranquil solemnity of Saint Elizabeth’s from the still sleeping street and take their places in the pews. The church bells rang to announce the Mass that would soon begin with the Franciscan priest’s sign of the cross.
Several blocks away, Giuseppe Alio suddenly awoke to the sound of tolling church bells. The swarthy drifter, recently arrived in Denver, arose from his boarding house bed. He dressed quickly and quietly. His final preparations before leaving the room where to throw over himself his bulky winter coat and to tuck into the band of his trousers the loaded pistol with which he had been practicing for months. Thus attired and armed, he stepped out into the crisp pre-dawn darkness and followed the peals of the bells to Saint Elizabeth’s Church. There he signed himself with the holy water and made his way to the third pew from the front on the Gospel side - near the pulpit where he thought Father Leo would soon be preaching.
None of the three hundred or so Catholics at the Mass seemed to pay much attention to the swart little stranger in the third pew. He stood and sat and knelt with everyone else. He even went up with the others to receive Holy Communion. At the rail, Alio knelt as Father Leo approached with the servers holding the candles on either side of the Blessed Sacrament. What happened next is best told by young Joseph Hines, one of the lads who was serving Mass that morning, as reported by The Denver Post on February 24, 1908:
“I was standing on one side of Father Leo and Joe Miller was on the other. I was closer to him and had my eyes on the people to whom he was giving Communion. I saw this man come from his seat, about the third row from the pulpit, and kneel down at the rail. He had his arms crossed when I first saw him kneel. He took the sacred host from Father, I think, but whether he finished or not I could not say positively. I turned away for a minute, and when I looked at him again I saw a gun in his hand.
“Quickly I stepped up to Father Leo and grabbing his robe I said: ‘Look out, Father!’ He turned his head in my direction, but did not say a word. I tried to pull him away, for I almost knew he was going to be shot. I was too late, though, for just as his head was turned that man rose to his feet. He pointed the gun at the father’s breast and pulled the trigger. Father Leo fell back to the floor, directly in front of the statue of Virgin Mary. A man by the name of Frederick Fisher caught him and sort of broke his fall.
“I placed the candle on the altar and leaned over the father, saying: ‘Aren’t you shot, Father?’
“He raised himself up a little and picked up two of the sacred Hosts, placing them in the chalice, then lay down again. His lips moved for a few minutes, I suppose in a dying prayer, and then all was silent.
“I ran upstairs and got Father Wulstan, who came down and, bending over the dying father administered the last sacrament. Father did not say a word, but still I think he was conscious. When Father Wulstan said: ‘Father, I am giving you the last sacraments,’ Father Leo did not answer him. He was smiling, and after the doctor arrived I left, for I heard him say the father was dead.
“I then ran to my home at 1112 Eleventh Street, for I could not bear to see him lying on the altar dead.”