Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Saturday 18 September |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Daudi Okelo and Bl. Jildo Irwa
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Denver priest shot at Mass could be declared a saint

Father Leo Heinrichs

Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 01/24/20

Fr. Leo Heinrichs was distributing Holy Communion when a man shot him because he was a priest.

When Joseph Heinrichs fled Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf in Germany, he thought he was escaping persecution. He didn’t know that shortly after being ordained a Franciscan priest and taking the religious name Leo, he would be shot because of one man’s hatred for the Catholic faith.

Fr. Leo Heinrichs initially served at various places in New York and New Jersey, but in 1907 he was assigned to St. Elizabeth’s parish in Denver, Colorado. According to the parish website, “When Fr. Leo Heinrichs, O.F.M., became pastor of St. Elizabeth’s on September 23rd, 1907, Denver’s poor learned they had a friend in the pastor of St. Elizabeth’s, and every morning a line formed at the friary gate.

He was a holy priest, a shepherd who cared deeply about the people he served, especially the poor and working class.

Yet, he was still a priest and this simple fact angered a man named Giuseppe Alia, who had a personal vendetta against all priests. Alia took out his aggression on Sunday, February 22, 1908. Here is a retelling of the story by Fr. Eusebius, who was at the parish and recounted the events in a letter published in the Messenger magazine.

Father Leo had won the love and veneration of all the parishioners and all the community. If I had been celebrant in his stead, the villain would have shot me. Father Leo read the six o’clock Mass, and distributed Holy Communion. There were about sixty communicants. When Father Leo was before the Blessed Virgin’s altar and was giving Holy Communion to a shabbily dressed man, the latter did not receive it, but throwing it on the floor pulled a revolver and shot good, faithful, beloved Father Leo through the heart.The little altar boy who accompanied him with a candle, saw the weapon and cried: “Father! look out!” The priest asked, “Why?” and at the same instant was shot. Although suffering great pain he stooped to gather up some Sacred Hosts that had fallen to the floor. The boy exclaimed: “But, Father! ain’t you shot?” “Sure,” “he answered, ”I am shot badly. Where is Father Eusebius?” The boy said: “I will call him.” With this Father Leo sank to the floor, placing the ciborium on the steps of the Blessed Virgin’s altar, and reclined in a kneeling position beside it. He had been to confession Saturday. He gave himself the Holy Viaticum and was absolved and anointed by Father Walston, while I gathered the twenty-five Hosts lying around and put the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

According to the Franciscan Friar’s website, “A few days earlier, he had preached ‘How sweet it is to die at the feet of Mary.'”

Alia was quickly apprehended and said later that he didn’t target Fr. Heinrichs specifically, and would have shot all the priests at the parish if he could. His last words before being hanged were, “Death to the priests!”

The life and death of Fr. Heinrichs was an inspiration to many and his cause for canonization was first introduced in 1928, with an official opening of his cause in 1933. Currently he is recognized as a “Servant of God,” but if the pope deems him a “martyr,” then his cause could potentially be sped up with the evidence of miracles through his intercession.




Read more:
What our 2nd American-born martyr, to be beatified Saturday, is still saying to youth today


FATHER STANLEY ROTHER

Read more:
Father Stanley Rother: The first American-born martyr

Tags:
SaintsSaints of the United States

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
2
communion
Philip Kosloski
How receiving Holy Communion can drive away demons
3
Berthe and Marcel
Lauriane Vofo Kana
This couple has the longest marriage in France
4
CROSS
Philip Kosloski
Why is the feast of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14?
5
Mathilde De Robien
How a lost masterpiece of sacred art was discovered thanks to chi...
6
Kathleen N. Hattrup
On same-sex unions, Pope says Church doesn’t have power to change...
7
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been known to f...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.