Msgr. Frederick D. Leising, a retired diocesan priest, will receive the Clarence Chamber of Commerce's Lifetime Achiever of the Year Award. The chamber's 2017 awards dinner will take place at 6 p.m., on March 2, at Samuel's Grande Manor in Clarence, where Msgr. Leising will receive his award along with others from the area.
Msgr. Leising, who now lives at the Msgr. Conniff Residence for retired priests in Depew, was pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Harris Hill, as well as pastor of St. Mary's in Lancaster, Sacred Heart in Bowmansville, and administrator of several other parishes. Ordained in 1971, he has dedicated much of his life to those living in poverty and hardship, and promotion of religious unity.
"I was born and raised in Clarence Center, so my origins are in that town. I served for 12 years as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Harris Hill on Main Street. I worked closely with all the other ministers in town from all of the other denominations. I guess the work that I did in that time, pastoring for those years, brought me to the notice of a lot of people in town," he said. "I was the major person involved in terms of many of the burials, as well as the community gathering around the plane crash in Clarence Center. I met with over 2,000 people at Clarence Middle School for a service after the crash took place."
Msgr. Leising also knew many politicians who have served in Clarence over the years. One person he touched was Robert Poczik, chair of Nativity's parish council and the chamber's 2016 Lifetime Achiever recipient, who nominated Msgr. Leising.
"I first met him when I retired and moved back here to Western New York, and decided that I would find a parish here to belong to. The closest parish to where we live in the town of Clarence is Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so I thought, 'Well, that's where I'll start,'" Poczik recalled. "I was immediately impressed by what a fine, wise and intelligent man Msgr. Fred Leising is."
"He's retired now from the parish, but during his tenure here, he very much got the parish involved in issues related to poverty and race in the city of Buffalo. He worked closely with an organization called VOICE-Buffalo," Poczik continued. "He served for a time on their board of directors. It brought information, awareness and realization about issues related to poverty, unemployment and racial discrimination."
Poczik said Msgr. Leising challenged him on a personal level to understand Scripture. Poczik was also asked to be on the parish's adult education committee, where Msgr. Leising served. The two did this together for about five years.
When asked what his selection for the Lifetime Achiever of the Year award meant to him, Msgr. Leising joked, "Number one, it means I'm old. Everybody who gets a lifetime achiever award is old." After laughing, he added, "It also means you're not forgotten. Somehow, people still remember you and you impacted their lives, which is a good thing. It also means that you faithfully went about your servant ministry, and it touched a lot of people - not just Catholics, all kinds of people, so that's all part of the story, too."
Other award recipients will be Noel Dill for Citizen of the Year, The Hollow Bistro and Brew for Business of the Year, and Clarence High School's Academy of Business and Science for Organization of the Year. The chamber created the Lifetime Achiever of the Year Award with a specific goal in mind, according to Jan Reicis, president of the Clarence Chamber of Commerce.
"What we wanted to do was also have a recognition for individuals who, over a considerable period of time, have made significant contributions to the Clarence community. Certainly Msgr. Leising, particularly with his time at Nativity, fits that mold," Reicis said. "It's remarkable how many people in Clarence know him."
For more information or to register for the dinner, call 716-631-3888 or visit www.clarencechamber.org.