Fr. Leo Ramsperger alongside one of the sisters at St. Bernard’s accepting a plant from his Maynooth garden to plant at the residence. Photo courtesy Mary Lou Robb

Fr. Ramsperger soared high in priesthood, not air force

  • February 28, 2024

Fr. Leo Ramsperger has been celebrating Mass as a priest since the mid-1950s, and despite retiring from formal service back in 1997, he remains deeply rooted in his faith and continues to celebrate life at every opportunity. 

The retired priest is celebrating two important milestones this year — he turned 100 on Feb. 25 and this year marks 70 years since his ordination in 1954. 

Ramsperger currently resides at St. Bernard’s Retirement Residence in Toronto. A party for his 100th birthday was to be held there March 1 to celebrate his storied life and career of service.

When asked how it felt to hit the century milestone, Ramsperger says he’s still in shock. 

“Oh dear. That’s something that you can hardly believe. The time goes by very quickly. I am the oldest and my classmates are all gone, but it’s part of life.”

Ramsperger fondly recalls his time working as a young man in Toronto where he was born and raised, most notably as a mechanic in the air force for over three years during the Second World War. 

“The officer wanted me to stay in the air force, but at 16, I was too young,” Ramsperger recalled.  

His father, who despite graduating from the University of Toronto and employed as an engineer, did not push his son to pursue a formal education, leading him to leave school at age 16 and take up welding as a trade during the war. 

Even while being heavily involved in the world of trades and even toying with the idea of joining the air force when of age, Ramsperger always had aspirations of joining the priesthood — “even before grade school.” A defining moment in his vocation came after the passing of Fr. Peter Minehan, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish where Ramsperger attended, whom he admired greatly.

“I have fond memories of St. Vincent de Paul (Parish) when I was growing up. Fr. Minehan was the pastor and I remember him being a very holy man,” Ramsperger said. “I remember when he died my mother took me to his funeral. That was one of the reasons I wanted to become a priest.”

It wasn’t until after the war, in 1947, that Ramsperger enrolled at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary at the age of 23. After seven years of faith formation and study, his vocation to the priesthood was complete and he was ordained at St. Michael’s Cathedral in 1954. Once again, Ramsperger remembers it like it was yesterday, calling it “a favourite time in his life.”

“There were 33 students in the class and by the time I graduated, half the class had left the priesthood,” he said.

Among his friends at the seminary was a young Aloysius Ambrozic, who would later be named Archbishop of Toronto. The future cardinal would be ordained one year after Ramsperger. 

As with many newly ordained priests, Ramsperger was put to work immediately and began his ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Collingwood during the summer. After that, he was called to St. John’s Parish for three years before serving St. Ann’s in Penetanguishene, an experience that will always stand out to him for personal reasons. 

“My father had died and I was still very close to my mother, so on my day off I would celebrate Mass at 5:30 p.m. and drive to Toronto to visit her before driving back the same evening.” 

During this time, he sparked up a friendship with another pastor teaching closer to his hometown of Toronto, one that still resonates with him today. 

“The pastor at St. Ambrose Parish in Etobicoke was Fr. Joseph Driscoll and we became the greatest friends. I would visit him every week for years,” Ramsperger said. “There was always something good wherever I was and I have seen many changes over the years. We thought the Latin Mass would last forever.” 

Ramsperger’s last parish was St. John the Evangelist in Caledon, before his official retirement in 1997. St. John the Evangelist Parish consisted of the churches St. Cornelius and St. John Albion, where he fought to keep the church’s interior design in order to preserve it the way it always was. Upon retirement, he moved to Maynooth, a community just north of Bancroft, Ont., where he lived for 24 years. During this time, Ramsperger said he conducted Mass daily out of a chapel in his house while also enjoying his hobbies of walking and gardening. 

Due to the rather secluded nature of his residence, he said at times he felt like a bit of a hermit in a way. Oftentimes, only one person was able to attend his daily Mass. However, he stated that even “if l was all by myself, I’d be completely happy. That is a gift, we’re never alone because God is with us.”

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