Alumni often refer to their overall SLUH experience as transformative, yet it's unique when one specific moment in the classroom changes the course of one's entire life. Such was the case for Fr. Leo Hayes '53, whose senior theology class inspired his lifelong vocation.
"Fr. John Doyle was teaching the Sacrament of Holy Orders," says Fr. Hayes, "when I clearly heard a voice from within that was calling me to be a priest."
After graduation, Fr. Hayes studied at St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois for two years before spending six years at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana. He was ordained on May 27, 1961.
"One of the things that made me who I am today is the fact that I never wanted to be a priest," says Fr. Hayes. "I just answered the call. I knew for sure it was God who wanted me to be a priest and I knew God was smarter than I was."
On June 8, 1968, Fr. Hayes was assigned to three small parishes in the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois. He's been there for 45 years, under six bishops.
In addition, Fr. Hayes was a missionary in El Progreso, Guatemala and served the Catholic inmates at Menard Correctional Center—the largest maximum-security penitentiary in Illinois—for 25 years, including the inmates on death row. He held the position of senior chaplain his last 10 years there. "It was very satisfying to work with the inmates," he says.
Now in his retirement, Fr. Hayes is writing a memoir about his work called A Country Pastor Goes to Prison. It will feature his reflections on years as a rural priest, as well as his assignment as chaplain at the penitentiary.
Remembering his roots—and where he was inspired by God—Fr. Hayes is giving back to SLUH with a charitable gift annuity. He likes the security of still having an income with this giving vehicle, as well as the convenience of receiving his annuity payments via direct deposit.
Through his generosity, Fr. Hayes continues to answer God's call by helping to provide a quality education to all young men regardless of their families' economic circumstances—and he's doing it Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: For the Greater Glory of God.