St. Leo Church, a Jesuit parish less than a mile from downtown Tacoma, Wash., is a community centered in the Eucharist, enriched by diversity, committed to Gospel values, and continually seeking to be Christ’s servant presence in the world.
In 1879, a missionary priest founded St. Leo. His congregation, which numbered 18, worshipped in a 24 x 40 foot building. The congregation grew rapidly; a second church was built in 1883. In 1901 a hall was purchased where a 2,200-seat church was built, but this massive building was destroyed in a fire in 1919. Consequently, St. Leo Parish worshipped in the school gym until late 1921 when they restored the church basement as a temporary church. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the parish underwent a major renovation of the church and the formation of parish commissions.
The Jesuit tradition at St. Leo began over a century ago in 1911 when Fr. John Cunningham, S.J., became pastor. In 1970 the Oregon Province Jesuits decided to nurture St. Leo as an urban faith community working for social justice. Today, the parish continues to cultivate this focus through St. Leo’s Social Justice Ministry. The parish also operates St. Leo’s Emergency Services, which provides services for the homeless, with a focus on employment search and stable housing.
The St. Leo Food Connection was founded in 1982 and has been a consistent source of nutritious food and caring for people in need throughout Pierce County. The Connection takes pride in distributing nutritious food to clients who are among society’s most vulnerable: over 50 percent of the clients at the St. Leo Food Connection are children and the elderly.