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Tributes paid to Fr Francis, devoted St Pancras priest

Fr Francis ‘Sam’ Leeder, who served as a priest at St Pancras in Ipswich for almost 45 years, died on Sunday aged 82.

Bishop Alan Hopes writes: “In the death of Fr Sam Leeder we have lost an example of a true pastor who gave himself totally to the people of his parish, St Pancras in Ipswich, where he served both as an Assistant and later as the Parish Priest for a total of 45 years. The Diocese is grateful to him for his deep commitment to the Church and to the priesthood and offer their prayers and sympathy to his niece and nephew who survive him. May he rest in peace.”

Fr Leeder was recovering in Ipswich Hospital following a knee operation and was undergoing physiotherapy when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack. He had received Communion from Bishop Alan on the day before he died.

He had first gone to St Pancras in 1963 before moving to St John’s, Norwich (now the cathedral) in 1970 and then to Woodbridge in 1973 before returning to St Pancras where he served as parish priest until retiring in 2019, aged 80, to live in Melton.

Fr Joseph Welch, the current parish priest at St Pancras writes: “Fr Leeder was a very devoted and much-loved parish priest. His first placement as a curate was at St Pancras under, first, Canon John Thompson, then Fr Edward McBride, and finally Fr Norman Smith, during which time he re-formed the 12th Ipswich Scout Group.

“How even to begin to recount the countless thousands of kindnesses and amusing anecdotes? Stories abound about railways, boating, scouting, pubs, Tavern Evenings, and roundabouts. His quirky ways will be remembered by many, and for years to come.”

“Sam had a strong faith which led him to be totally committed to his parishioners,” remembers Fr Pat Cleary, “especially those less fortunate. Those who were sick were always well looked after as well as those who sought his wise council. He was always generous, perhaps over generous to people at the door looking for help.

“Had it not been for Sam I doubt I’d be a priest today so I owe him a lot, I’m sure many would say the same for a variety of reasons.”

At the time of his retirement Fr Leeder said: “I have had a great life. People have been so kind to me. I shall leave St Pancras with many happy memories and warm feelings as a result of the support that I have enjoyed from parishioners.”

“He was reluctant to retire,” writes Stephen Griggs, who served as parish chairman for many years. “I recall him saying he would have been happy to leave St Pancras when they carry me out in a box. He possessed an ability to uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith without being judgemental and exuded unlimited compassion. Never fearful of mixing with the secular world, he was well known in the world of sailing on the Deben.”

“Fr Leeder was a real role model,” writes Julian Wong. “He kept the church open all the time. I went there to pray a lot, and that was how I became a Catholic.”

“Many people in the town will remember him,” writes Stephen Donaghy. “His good humour and twinkling smile. May he rest in peace.” 

A requiem Mass for Fr Leeder is being celebrated at 6pm this evening (Wednesday February 16) at St Pancras in Ipswich.

Pictured above is Fr Leeder marking his 80th birthday.