Fr. Leonard Graf (1883-1970)
Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 1
Leonard Joseph Graf was born on February 10th 1883 in Aachen, Germany. From an early age he desired to become a priest, but the Iron Duke, Otto von Bismark, had closed all the Roman Catholic seminaries. He began studies for the priesthood at Rockwell College’s Junior Seminary in Tipperary, Ireland at age ten.
He learnt to speak English and placed first in Ireland’s School Leaving Certificate Examinations. Afterwards, he taught at Rockwell and attained an external bachelor of arts degree from the Royal University of Ireland in 1903.
In 1906 he joined the staff of St. Mary’s College and was ordained a priest four years later. Fr. Graf taught Latin, Greek and Ancient History, but switched to Zoology and Botany after qualifying in these subjects. He made these subjects come alive by taking his students on field trips to El Tucuche, the Aripo Savannas and Monos Island where he taught them about different environments. Non-science students were welcomed on these trips and they too benefited from his vast knowledge.
A patient and generous man, he often loaned students books from his personal library to provide additional study references. Former students recall the tremendous influence of “The Lion” in shaping their lives, by giving counsel on career choices and maintaining contact throughout their adulthood.
Fr. Graf was “the pillar of St. Mary’s”. He liaised with Government on staffing and educational matters and was Dean of Studies (1920-1957). He spearheaded many extra-curricular activities including the choir, orchestra and annual plays. He also edited the College’s 50th and 100th anniversary annals. He retired from active teaching in 1966 having missed only 2 days of school in 60 years.
Outside of teaching, he was an active member and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club and was elected an honorary member in 1955. An amateur photographer, he took photos and made short movies of the group’s botanical excursions.
In 1969, he received one of the inaugural national awards from the Trinidad and Tobago Government, the Chaconia Medal (Gold) for “Long and Meritorious Service to Trinidad and Tobago in the Sphere of Education”.
He passed away in 1970.