Father Leo L. Davis, 50 Years a Priest, Dies at 74

Times Staff Writer

Father Leo L. Davis, 74, one of the first priests assigned to the San Diego Diocese and widely known for his work on behalf of labor and social justice, died Wednesday at Mercy Hospital.

His death came less than two weeks after the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

Davis, a chaplain at Cardijn Center, had been ill for the past year but was able to attend an April 8 celebration in which he was honored by more than 600 people for his work in the community over the past half-century. His death was due to natural causes.


He was born in Nebraska and moved to San Diego with his family as a small boy. He attended St. Augustine High School, where he played baseball and basketball. Davis maintained a strong interest in sports all his life, said longtime friend Pat Higgins, a journalism instructor at Grossmont College.

Ordained in 1938

Davis entered St. John’s Seminary in Los Angeles and in 1938 was ordained, after which he became one of the first three priests assigned to the newly created Diocese of San Diego, Higgins said.

His first parish was Our Lady of Angels in San Diego, followed by parish work in Descanso, Campo and other backcountry locations.

He was later assigned to St. Mary’s (now Holy Trinity) parish in El Cajon. While at St. Mary’s, Davis convened conferences aimed at increasing understanding of labor and labor organizations. His affinity for labor continued through the years, and he served as mediator in many labor-management disputes. He was also chaplain for several labor organizations, and at one time he was known as “San Diego’s Labor Priest,” Higgins said.

For 30 years, Davis had been chaplain of Cardijn Center, a Catholic lay organization dedicated to advancing the church’s principles of social justice. In that position, Davis became known for his effectiveness in steering young people from drugs and alcohol, Higgins said.

“He was a first-class guy. He had lots and lot of friends. He believed that things could be improved in this world.” Higgins said, adding that Davis had the ability to get along with people and strong feelings for the underdog.

Lived a Simple Life

“He was a very simple man,” said Father James R. Anderson of the Cardijn Center. “He lived a very simple life. He was very concerned about the needs of the poor and the working man. He was particularly concerned about Mexican people.

In his will, Davis asked “to be buried in the cemetery with the poor.”

Davis is survived by two brothers, Bernard, of Spring Valley, and Francis, of Oceanside; and three sisters, Mary Alice Hardy of Fallbrook, and Margaret and Theresa Davis, both of Oceanside.

A Mass is schedule for noon Monday at Blessed Sacrament Church, 4540 El Cerrito Drive. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery.

The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Cardijn Center.