'Yale material': Rev. Eddie DeLeón, CMF
For CTU alumnus Rev. Eddie DeLeón, CMF, preparing for Sunday Mass recently became a more daunting, but rewarding experience. “When I preach at Mass, there are world-renowned Scripture scholars in the audience, as well as the dean of the Yale Divinity School,” Fr. DeLeón said, smiling. “Not to mention, students may fact-check my homily!”
In August 2011, Fr. DeLeón became the first Latino priest to serve as Assistant Chaplain at Yale University’s Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel. There, he supports all 5,600 graduate students with Catholic intellectual life, spiritual direction, marriage counseling, and other faith services, as well as plans and executes outreach for Yale’s Latino student population.
Growing up the oldest of seven siblings in East Chicago, Ind., working at a hallowed American institution like Yale was far from Fr. DeLeón’s mind. In fact, when he learned that Yale had sought him out and wanted to interview him, he didn’t believe it. “I thought, ‘Yale?! It can’t be the university… Maybe there’s a Yale High School or something,’” he recalled. Without hesitation, Fr. DeLeón attributes much of his success to his academic training at CTU.
Fr. DeLeón was sent to study at CTU by his religious community, the Claretian Missionaries, and he received his Master of Divinity degree in 1991 with a specialization in word and worship. His fellow seminarians would often compare notes on the academic rigor of their different schools. “The other students considered themselves lucky because they didn’t have as much work as me,” Fr. DeLeón said. “But I thought, ‘If you are going to do something anyway, wouldn’t you want to be the best at it?’” He considered it a privilege to be pushed by some of the best theological scholars in the world.
And pushed he was. In his last semester, Fr. DeLeón took a course on Patristic preaching with faculty member Rev. Richard Fragomeni, and spent much of the semester anxious that he wasn’t doing well, despite his best efforts. After submitting his final paper, Prof. Fragomeni called him out of a meeting to discuss it. “I thought he was going to tell me I had failed,” he said. Instead, he complimented the paper and said that with some tweaks, it could be published. “My professors got the best from me by expecting no less,” he said.
Fr. DeLeón then earned his doctorate in preaching from The Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, Mo., became director of campus ministry in Springfield, Mo., where he saw through a $5 million campaign for a new Catholic student center and chapel, and served as a provincial for his community in Chicago. After his term ended there, he found himself called back to his first passion: campus ministry and Latino young adults.
“The Claretians’ main focus when they incorporated in 1924 was to work with the Latino community in the United States,” he said. “It’s now the fastest-growing Catholic population in the country, and with all the challenges our community faces, I wanted to be directly involved.” Fr. DeLeón e-mailed the National Office of Catholic Campus Ministry on a Friday afternoon. By Saturday, a message from Rev. Robert Beloin, the Chaplain at Yale University, sat in his inbox.
After a rigorous interview process, including questions ranging from biogenetics to gender issues, Fr. DeLeón joked with the Chaplain, “Just in case I never come back, at least I got a T-shirt!” Little did he know that he’d become a vital contributor to campus life.
Fr. DeLeón has made Yale home. He feels a strong calling as the first Latino Catholic priest on campus. “Latino immigrants came to this country looking for a better life,” he said. “Those immigrants had children, and those children had children, and some of those children are at Yale. I feel honored to support them.”
Fr. DeLeón strives to guide students in their faith, and also to show them what success looks like for the Latino community—whether it’s a successful Latino theologian, a writer, or an economist. “We are forming a Church for the future,” he said. “I want to prepare them for leadership, because many of them will go back to their respective cities or countries, and have incredible influence with a degree from Yale. We want them to spiritually grounded, as well as academically strong.”
Fr. DeLeón sits on CTU’s Board of Trustees, and said he is confident the quality of religious education at CTU is comparable to the academic work at Yale Divinity School. “Now, my colleagues are more aware of CTU and are talking about the school,” he said. That makes him really proud.
When asked about the future, Fr. DeLeón laughed and admitted that he has always dreamed of moving to Nashville. “Maybe I could be a chaplain for musicians!” he said. But he’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. “I’m happy at Yale, and they are happy with me being there,” he said. “They say I’m Yale material.”