Retiring Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland Has Strong Catholic Ties

On Monday, October 21, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced that he would be stepping down as manager after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Red Sox.  During his eight-year tenure, Leland had led the team to three division titles and two trips to the World Series; but the championship had eluded them.

Leyland, whose successful career included managing the Colorado Rockies (1999), Florida Marlins (1997-98), and Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-96), has been a popular figure in Detroit.

Still, many sports fans may not be aware that Jim Leyland has strong Catholic ties.  Born to Irish Catholic parents, he was one of seven Leyland children who attended Catholic schools and were taught by Ursuline sisters.

His brother Tom is a Catholic priest.  At St. Rose Parish in Perrysburg, Ohio—just south of Toledo—Father Thomas J. Leyland serves a busy parish with 8,000 parishioners and a school.   Father Tom is a graduate of the University of Detroit, where he received a strong Jesuit education.  In 1987, he officiated at the wedding of his brother Jim Leyland and his wife Katie.

Two of his aunts were Catholic sisters. 

Sister M. Johanna Leyland (born Eleanor Rose Leyland), entered the Ursuline convent in 1942 and passed away in 2012 at the age of 97, the last of sixteen siblings (10 girls and 6 boys) to die.  Sister Johanna had enjoyed a distinguished career as an educator.  During her 47 years of teaching, she served at St. Charles, Good Shepherd, and St. Francis de Sales in Toledo, and at St. Mary and St. Joseph in Tiffin.  In 1976, she was the recipient of the National Catholic Education Association’s Teacher of the Year award.

Sister Johanna’s sibling Sister M. Joachim Leyland (born Alice Lorraine Leyland), six years younger and also a teacher, died the previous year.  For forty years, Sister Joachim taught at Toledo Catholic schools including St. Agnes, Good Shepherd, St. Francis de Sales, St. Patrick of Heatherdowns, Rosary Cathedral, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and St. John, plus St. Joseph and St. Mary schools in Tiffin and St. Gerard School in Lima, Ohio.  She last taught at St. Angela Hall in Toledo, and after her retirement from the classroom, she continued her service there as an aide and tutor.

Growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in the Maumee River shoreline town of Perrysburg, Jim Leyland, his brother Tom and five other siblings were influenced, to be sure, by the faith of their parents.  His father, who worked for Corning Glass, was a member of the Holy Name Society and an usher for fifty years.  His mother helped to shape the children’s moral character and schooled them in the Catholic faith.

Money was tight in their family of nine, and the Leyland brothers sometimes shared a pair of Sunday shoes.  Jim has spoken candidly about borrowing gas money from his brothers to drive to Florida for his first minor-league job.  Home was just the place, though, to inspire in Jim Leyland the down-to-earth, hearth-and-home values for which he’s become known.

A hometown philanthropist, Leyland reportedly donated $100,000 to his alma mater, Perrysburg High School, for new baseball and softball facilities at the school.  He’s been quiet about his financial support for his brother’s parish, St. Rose, but that support is thought to be substantial.  And for years, locals report, he picked up Thanksgiving turkeys from the family farm belonging to Perrysburg Township Trustee Gary Britten.

Leyland plans to remain with the Detroit Tigers, although not in on the bench but perhaps in an administrative capacity.

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  • God bless him in retirement. He was a fine manager.