August 29, 2018 // Local
Father Leonard Banas, CSC, laid to rest
Holy Cross priest Father Leonard N. Banas, the oldest priest still active in ministry at the University of Notre Dame, passed away Aug. 22 at the age of 91.
Fondly remembered by peers and local parishioners for his wisdom and pastoral care, “Father Len” Banas offered over 60 years in the service of the Church, primarily as a professor and as parish assistant at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Elkhart.
“As the second reading from the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds husbands and priests, we are called to love as “Christ loved the church…,” said Father Jason Freiburger, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle. “Father Banas sacrificially gave himself lovingly to his bride the church. Over 30 years ago, he began a weekly trek to celebrate Sunday Mass for the bride with whom he fell in love — the people of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. Though his assistance with Masses and confessions is a huge loss, his energy, wisdom and the loving relationships he built with us will be missed most of all.”
Having joined the Congregation of Holy Cross after high school, Father Banas graduated from Notre Dame with a philosophy degree in 1949 and professed final vows in August of the same year. He continued his theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1952 at the church of San Marcello. Following an additional year of studies at the University of Rome, Father Banas served as chaplain at Notre Dame High School and taught at Holy Cross Seminary (1954-56) and Moreau Seminary (1956-57).
Returning to studies from 1957 to 1960, Father Banas earned a master’s degree in classics from Princeton in 1961. He was then assigned to St. Joseph Hall at Notre Dame, while continuing to teach at Moreau and Holy Cross Seminary from 1961 to 1962. He later served at St. Joseph Hall as assistant superior from 1962 to 1967 and superior from 1967 to 1973.
Father Banas taught at Notre Dame from 1973 to 1980, while serving as assistant rector of Pangborn Hall. During this time, he also was chairman of the classical languages department.
He was appointed superior of Corby Hall from 1980 to 1985 and continued as assistant rector, beginning in 1986. From 1997 to 2012, he maintained this role while serving as an assistant dean in the College of Arts and Letters.
While much of his ministry centered on education, he also sought to offer assistance to local diocesan clergy and parishes.
Father Neil Wack, CSC, assistant provincial, U.S. Province, who presided at a vigil of prayer on Aug. 26, remarked, “Father Len loved being a priest and being with the people of God. He wanted to serve and to continue offering support. Based on his own estimation, throughout his ministry he had assisted at 25 different parishes.”
The majority of his more than 30 years of parish ministry occurred at St. Thomas the Apostle, Elkhart.
“Father Len was a humble servant to our parish and would travel from Notre Dame to St. Thomas on icy roads and through stormy weather to celebrate Mass with us every weekend and hear confessions when needed,” parishioner Laura Humphrey stated. “He taught us how to persevere through the tough times and to do it with a smile. He was dedicated to our parish and helped several pastors over the years. We will miss his smile, his quiet humor and his humble heart.”
Offering the eulogy for the vigil, Holy Cross Father Nicholas Ayo exclaimed, “I think Father Len’s heart was more devoted to the priestly ministry with folks of the parish than with academics. Len had an extraordinary sensitivity for the predicaments of others who were vulnerable. He had big hands, which were filled with the people he befriended and protected with a big heart.”
Father Banas shared his experience of religious life with his brother James, a Holy Cross priest who served as a missionary in Bangladesh for over 50 years, who passed away last year. Speaking further in his eulogy, Father Ayo shared, “We admired Father Len for so many reasons. In particular, his care for his younger brother in his last days at Holy Cross House spoke of Len and the bigheartedness we knew in so many other ways. We thank God for lending him to us, he was a good man, a good priest, a good brother in Holy Cross.”
Father Banas’ funeral Mass was celebrated in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Aug. 27. Burial was in the Holy Cross community cemetery at Notre Dame.
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