Ruskowski, Father Leo F.
1988, November 9
Date of Birth: 1907, February 21
January 12, 1989
Like many of his brother Sulpicians of the past, Father Leo Ruskowski was not widely known outside the two seminaries where he taught. Yet, as can be seen from letters received following news of his death, the positive impact he had on numerous seminarians for more than forty years must be acknowledged.
Leo Francis Ruskowski was born in Wilmington, DE, on February 21, 1907, the son of Anthony Ignatius and Julia Anna (nee Mroczyoska) Ruskowski. Six other children were born of that marriage, Benjamin, Francis, Joseph, Monica, and two sisters who entered the Benedictine community of St. Gertrude’s Priory, Ridgely, MD, Sisters Mary Antoinette and Mary Julia. Leo’s formal education began in a public school and was soon continued at St. Elizabeth’s in Wilmington. He completed his last two years of high school and first two years of college at St. Charles College in Catonsville, MD, where he began studies for the priesthood and performed as an organist for the chapel services. His seminary studies were pursued at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, after he had been accepted as an aspirant for the Society of St. Sulpice.
On June 11, 1936, Leo was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wilmington by Bishop Edmund J. Fitzmaurice, and that fall he began the year of formation at St. Charles College with six other candidates for the Society, all but one of whom would spend their lives in Sulpician ministry. The following three years he spent at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, where he successfully completed a doctorate in American Church history. His dissertation was an excellent contribution to the literature of the earliest days of the Church in America following the ordination of its first bishop, John Carroll. Published by The Catholic University of America Press, French Emigre Priests in the United States, 1791-1815, the book described the good fortune of the American Church in receiving some one hundred French priests who escaped the appalling conditions of the Revolution which was devastating their country at a time when no more than thirty-five other priests were attempting to minister to the needs of the infant United States.
Upon receiving his Ph.D., Father Ruskowski returned to St. Charles College to teach the modern European history courses for the next thirteen years. He had the reputation of being a demanding and exacting professor, and he further distinguished himself as a director of plays performed by upper classmen year after year to the delight of the College community. He also served as faculty moderator of the Mission Society which raised funds for missionaries and sought to deepen the zeal of seminarians for evangelization.
In 1953, the Sulpician authorities asked Father Ruskowski to cut his roots in Baltimore and become professor of church history at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, and there he spent the remainder of his teaching years. As qualified as he was for the post, he would not show as much ease and comfort with his teaching in the West as had characterized his work at St. Charles. The northern California climate, however, greatly appealed to him. Although his trips away from there were infrequent, they included visits to his family in Delaware and an enjoyable tour of Europe in 1960. For many years, even after his retirement from teaching in 1972, he celebrated Sunday Masses at St. Anthony’s Church in Menlo Park.
As early as the summer of 1954, Father Ruskowski experienced problems with his health, when he also suffered a brother’s death. He was also troubled by the cultural changes of the 1960s and found difficulty in adapting to some directions introduced to the Church by the Second Vatican Council. By 1968, he was in fragile health and withdrawing from various aspects of seminary life.
Even those who knew him well were therefore surprised when he entered retirement by buying a mobile home in a Redwood City community and managing to survive in a contented and quite satisfactory fashion. That delightful period ended in 1977, when a heart attack restricted his activities and diet and prepared him to accept gracefully the need to enter St. Charles Villa for more companionship and support. Then followed the deaths of two more brothers, his married sister, Monica, and his two sisters in religious life who had been especially dear to him.
In May 1986, Father Ruskowski was well enough to share in a Mass and a public tribute by colleagues, relatives, and other friends to mark his fifty years of priesthood. A few months later his health deteriorated further and early on the morning of the ninth of November 1988, he died in the infirmary of St. Martin’s Home. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on the evening of November 10, with the Most Reverend Robert E. Mulvee, Bishop of Wilmington, the principal celebrant. The Very Reverend Gerald L. Brown, S.S., Provincial of the Sulpicians, expressed his appreciation of Father Ruskowski, who had taught him in California, and thanked Bishop Mulvee for the generosity of the Diocese in releasing one of its priests for seminary work. The following day another Mass was celebrated by the Reverend Monsignor Joseph F. Rebman, secretary of the pastoral concerns department and chancellor of the Diocese, at St. Gertrude’s Priory, Ridgely, where, at his request, Father Ruskowski was buried near the graves of Sisters Antoinette and Julia. The Reverend Raymond F. Hesler, S.S., delivered the homilies at both Masses. Monsignor Rebman and the Reverend Lawrence A. Bender, S.S., led graveside prayers.
May Father Ruskowski live forever in the joy of the Resurrection.
William J. Lee, S.S.