John Leonard was a dedicated family man, friend, and Chicago firefighter.
After fighting lung cancer valiantly, John succumbed to the disease on January 19, 2015. He left behind a legacy and some big boots to fill.
Whether it was by being a lieutenant on the Chicago Fire Department, an instructor for the Illinois Fire Services Institute, a football coach at Saint Patrick High School, or the leader of the Merrimac Park Youth Council, John touched lives everywhere he went.
Around 6 am on July 1st, 1999 while driving into Chicago from Rochester, NY, my husband, myself and my 3 children were involved in a 5-car accident on the Chicago skyway. What started out as an exciting journey to see family became the darkest day of my life as well as the day our lives intersected with Johns'. The skyway became a disaster area with twisted metal, blaring sirens and crowds of people gathering to stare. My 2 boys were removed from the vehicle but my daughter Crystal was pinned into her seat in my now unrecognizable van. I kept grabbing anyone in a uniform and begging them to help her. John, my older son, was hysterical upon being placed in the ambulance so I was ushered to the vehicle to ride with him. I didn't get to see my daughter released from the wreckage. I know now, it was probably best.
While in the ambulance, a firefighter appeared at the doorway. He handed me some of my belongings. His beautiful eyes — full of compassion — locked onto mine. Little did I know that he’d be the man that just carried my daughter from the van to the ambulance. The man that would cradle her in his arms while she took her last breath. This man was John.
John came to the hospital a couple of days later. He and his firehouse had raised money to help us with our expenses to fly back home. At this point, I was walking around in a zombie like state of shock but his love and compassion kept bringing me back.
We had a small wake here in Chicago for family before sending her home for another wake and funeral. Not only did he attend the services here, but he flew out to Rochester with another firefighter to attend the services there.
After the funeral, we unfortunately lost contact with John. It was just about 3 years later when, after he spent time searching for us, that we were united. We made plans to meet and of course that would be the weekend that Rochester was hit with a large ice storm. That didn't stop him however. He arrived on my doorstep and it was if timed hadn't passed,. It was then that he showed me the tattoo. The tattoo is of an angel carrying a child to Heaven. He shared with me how he felt deeply that this is what happened while he held her that day and how it impacted him. It was so fitting but for far more than John ever thought of or wold recognize. As I see it, he was the angel that day.
In Romans 8:28 it says:
...And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
God used John to bring peace to my broken heart. Through crisis, John was evidence that God was working through the situation. He has made a permanent mark on my life as well as my family’s lives. I stand here knowing that my life was made better by his time in it.
I believe now, with every fiber of my being, that John and Crystal are now reunited.
Together in a place where there are no more tears, no more pain, no sickness or death. A 9 year old girl and her valiant hero.
About Saint Patrick High School
Saint Patrick High School is the oldest Catholic all-male high school in the city of Chicago and the oldest school operated by the Chicago Province of the Christian Brothers.
Each year, Saint Patrick’s student body of more than 650 boys represents over 100 elementary schools and 50 Zip codes from the Northwest side of Chicago and outlying suburbs.
Saint Patrick welcomes students of all religious beliefs, varying academic abilities, and diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. Lasallian in its teachings, St. Pat’s traditionally serves working class families and provides financial aid to students who need help attending the school.
Saint Patrick proudly helps 45% of its students and families annually with tuition assistance.