ZOOLOGY: the scientific study of the behaviour, structure, physiology, and classification of animals


BOTANY: the scientific study of the structure, classification, ecology, and economic importance of plants

Leonard Graf (1883-1970)

Caribbean Icons in STI Vol 1

Fr. Leonard Graf taught at St. Mary’s College in Trinidad for 60 years! He initially taught Latin, Greek, and Ancient History, but switched to the sciences to meet the new needs of the College. During his 42 years of science teaching, St. Mary’s won the science scholarship 31 times.

Leonard Joseph Graf was born in Aachen, Germany in 1883. He wanted to become a priest but Germany’s “Iron Duke”, Otto van Bismark, closed the Roman Catholic seminaries. At age ten, he began studies for the priesthood at Rockwell College’s Junior Seminary in Tipperary, Ireland. He learnt to speak English and placed first in Ireland’s School Leaving Certificate Examinations.

He taught at Rockwell and pursued an external Bachelor of Arts degree at the Royal University of Ireland (National University). He attained his degree in 1903 and joined St. Mary’s College in 1906. In 1910, he was ordained a priest.

When St. Mary’s sought to change its emphasis on the arts to science, Fr. Graf gained qualifications in zoology and botany by self-study to enable this thrust. He developed a commanding knowledge of these subjects and enhanced his teaching by field trips. Even non-science students benefited from trips that he led to the natural savannas, offshore islands, and El Tucuche (the second highest mountain in Trinidad).

Fr. Graf was a motivating force in the lives of his students. He was patient and often loaned personal library books to provide study references to students. Former students admit to “the Lion’s” influence in shaping their lives beyong the College’s walls. He counselled them on career choices and kept i contact throughout their adult lives.

A later principal summed him up as “the pillar of St. Mary’s” as he also spearheaded many extra-curricular activities, including the choir, orchestra, film evenings, and annual plays. He retired from teaching in 1966 having only missed two days of school in 60 years!

He was an active member and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club, and was elected an honorary member in 1955. He took amateur photographs and made short movies of the group’s botanical excursions. He made eleven trips to the top of El Tucuche, his last at age 72.

In 1969, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago awarded him one of the inaugural National Awards, the Chaconia Medal Gold, for long and meritorious service in education. After a period of declining health, Fr. Graf passed away on January 15th 1970.