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From Mahanoy City coal patch to college namesake, Edward Leahy's life built on generosity

The University of Scranton honored Edward and Patricia Leahy this week, renaming the Panuska College of Professional Studies
Sarah Hofius Hall
The University of Scranton honored Edward and Patricia Leahy this week, renaming the Panuska College of Professional Studies the Leahy College of Health Sciences.

Edward Leahy grew up in a clapboard home without hot water, on a coal patch just outside Mahanoy City.

The entrance to the coal mine was 90 feet to the left, and the breaker was 90 feet to the right. He had to clean the coal dust from his eyes and ears nightly.

Inside that home, and then later in an apartment in Mahanoy City, and then as a student at the University of Scranton, he fostered a desire to give back to those in need.

In the fall, Leahy and his wife committed $10 million to the university – the largest gift from a single donor in the school’s history.

“It's the right thing to do. I always say that,” Leahy said. “It's simplistic, but it's how I feel… I think you recognize that some people need it, and you got it, so you should give it.”

This week, the university named one of its colleges after the family – a lasting tribute to the Leahys and their dedication to Scranton and the love for their late son, Edward, Jr.

Edward and Patricia Leahy with their late son, Edward, Jr.
Photo courtesy University of Scranton
Edward and Patricia Leahy with their late son, Edward, Jr.

Edward, Jr. was born in 1984 with multiple disabilities and died in 1993, just before his ninth birthday. That next year, the couple created the Edward R. Leahy Jr. Endowment at the university.

That endowment has supported the Clinic for the Uninsured, which includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling and low vision clinics that help individuals in need in Lackawanna County. An agreement between the university and Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine will further expand the reach and services offered by the Leahy Medical Clinic.

During Edward Jr.’s life, the family relied greatly on the expertise of various medical professionals, including physical and occupational therapists and nurses. The college where those programs are housed, the Panuska College of Professional Studies, will now be called the Leahy College of Health Sciences.

To continue to honor the late, longest-serving president of the university, the board of trustees approved the naming of the Rev. J.A. Panuska, S.J., Commons and the Rev. J. A. Panuska, S.J., Faculty/Student Research Program.

Edward Leahy speaks at the University of Scranton event honoring the naming of the Leahy College of Health Sciences.
Sarah Hofius Hall
Edward Leahy speaks at the University of Scranton event honoring the naming of the Leahy College of Health Sciences.

During an event this week, the Rev. Joseph G. Marina, S.J., president of the university, spoke about the impact the Leahys have had on Scranton.

“To be clear, they did not ask me to change the name of the college. That was my idea,” Marina said. “I thought it was a fitting accolade and a proper expression of gratitude for the Leahys' lifelong commitment to generosity and service to the university.”

Leahy’s father worked in the mines. His mother worked as a waitress, and then in a dress factory. A priest paid for Leahy to attend Immaculate Heart Academy in Fountain Springs.

Leahy’s uncle had heard about the University of Scranton and gave his nephew an application. The boy from Mahanoy City soon found himself living in the “big city” of Scranton. Without enough rooms on campus, Leahy and other freshmen lived in the Hotel Casey. He met people who had visited places he had only seen on postcards. He worked in the library, rebinding old books and reading anything he could find.

“I had a job. I studied hard,” he said. “I loved it. I really did.”

He participated in the ROTC program as a student at Scranton and commissioned into the U.S. Army. He served as a captain in military intelligence.

He earned his law degree from Boston College as a presidential scholar and served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review. Early in his career, he served as a law clerk to Justice William J. Brennan of the U.S. Supreme Court. Leahy went on to be a partner in two law firms and also worked in international business. He taught at University College, Oxford, United Kingdom.

He created a scholarship at the University of Scranton in honor of his late uncle, who had given him the application.

While in Boston, Leahy met his future wife. Patricia Leahy worked for 19 years on Capitol Hill and spent six years as a special assistant for legislative affairs in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration.

She also served for nearly two decades with public policy and legislative affairs to assist individuals with disabilities for the National Rehabilitation Association in Washington, D.C.

“Children with disabilities ask so little, but they give so much,” she said. “We only had little Edward … he passed just a little before his ninth birthday. But he was a gift from God. He was the best thing that ever happened to us. He changed our lives dramatically. He changed my life dramatically.”

The Leahys live in McLean, Virginia. He often thinks about the lessons learned in Mahanoy City, and the generosity his mother showed to others, even when his family had little.

“She didn't make much as a waitress. She didn't make much as a factory worker at all. But if she saw someone who wasn't doing well… she would go to the grocery store and get them an order. An order was one big brown bag of groceries that lasted most families for the better part of a week,” he said. “If you do what you can do in a place that you really know and understand and have great feelings for, that's all the better.”

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org