Thursday, April 25, 2013 | 4:15 p.m.
As more than 1,000 hungry diners streamed into Catholic Charities’ dining hall in downtown Las Vegas for a gourmet meal Thursday morning, they were greeted by the words of Monsignor Patrick Leary, who started the Feast of Hope nine years ago.
“In this dining room, the blessing comes with the meal, not before it,” read the words, which were posted prominently on one of the cafeteria walls.
Leary, the former CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, passed away unexpectedly in December at age 63, leaving a huge hole in one of the valley’s largest nonprofit groups, which he led for nearly a decade.
Although Leary wasn’t at Thursday’s Feast of Hope, his spirit filled the room as volunteers and staff worked to continue his mission of serving people in need with a smile on their faces.
“People know when they come here there will be good food and they’ll be treated with respect,” said Patricia Trent Morrissey, president of Catholic Charities’ board of trustees. “Monsignor Leary set the whole atmosphere. He made it feel like a family celebration.”
Catholic Charities serves 3,600 meals each day to the city’s homeless and needy.
Most of the time it’s stew, pasta, or other hearty dishes that can be made in large quantities, but around the holidays the nonprofit will host several fancier dinners.
Morrissey said Feast of Hope came from Leary’s desire to hold a special meal in the spring.
“He was very cognizant of the fact that people need help all year round, not just during the holidays,” she said.
Thursday’s meal included roast pork loin with mushroom marsala sauce, orzo pasta vegetables, fresh baked rolls and pineapple upside down cake for dessert.
The line stretched out the door as diners waited to be seated at one of several long tables, which were decorated with purple tablecloths and flower arrangements.
Dozens of volunteers worked to prep and then serve the food to the diners.
“We wanted to create a restaurant experience for people who otherwise might not be able to do that,” Catholic Charities spokeswoman Leslie Carmine said.
Catholic Charities is still searching for a permanent replacement for Leary, but Morrissey said she’s been amazed by the extra support and help the nonprofit received from the community in the wake of his passing.
“What we’ve discovered is that there are so many people out there who are willing to step forward and help,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of friends. I think that’s a testimony to Monsignor Leary’s impact.”
As he looked out over the crowded hall of diners, Bishop Joseph Pepe said Leary’s legacy lives on in the people he helped and the programs he started. Now, Pepe said, it’s up to Catholic Charities and the rest of the community to fulfill Leary’s vision.
“There was a sense of purpose and vitality he brought,” Pepe said. “His mission was to bring a sense of hope and opportunity; to always be embracing people.”