Cover photo for Mary Theresa Leonard's Obituary
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1926 Theresa 2024

Mary Theresa Leonard

September 16, 1926 — April 8, 2024

Mary Theresa Houck was born in Emmitsburg, MD to Agnes Rosensteel and James Edward Houck. Her father owned the Emmitsburg Quality Shop on the town square and the Houck family lived above it. Mary Theresa was the first child and was joined in the following years by sister Margaret and brother James Edward, known as Edward.

She considered her childhood in this small town just south of the Mason-Dixon line as idyllic. The local movie house was managed by her beloved Uncle Ernie Rosensteel; the local paper, The Emmitsburg Chronicle was run by the Rosensteel family; her grandmother lived alone up the street. As in many small towns, there was a colorful cast of characters: the town drunk who occasionally got liquored up and shot out the streetlights from his pickup truck and the “Wing-a-Wang” man, a panhandler whose name came from the sounds he made as he sketched your portrait.

Theresa was one of the “townies” in Emmitsburg who went to school with the boarding students who generally came from more money. Despite her academic promise, she was not encouraged by her school or her family to pursue her education beyond high school. She continued to work in the family shop even after the death of both parents in the early 1950s. Soon, she caught the eye of a Mount St. Mary’s college professor. Ironically, she met Dick Leonard, a pacifist, at a VFW dance! They wed in 1954. At first, they continued to live in Emmitsburg and began having children. First Tom and then Christopher. Philadelphia called them north. Dick got a job teaching sociology at what was then La Salle College. They settled in Mount Airy and had more children: Mary Agnes, John, and Richard.

In their big stone house on Gowen Avenue, she taught her children humility, courtesy, gentleness, honesty, creativity, and enthusiasm. She did not have a pretentious bone in her body. She warned against “show-offy” behavior. A lifetime of raising children, knitting, crocheting, reading, and solving crossword puzzles kept her mind and her hands busy.

Summers were spent with an annual vacation to Dick’s hometown of Watertown, NY. Sociology conventions were a good excuse for longer trips to San Francisco, to Toronto, to New Orleans. Although she was a homebody, Theresa was a good sport on these trips. They often stayed in campgrounds after a long day on the road. Theresa, Dick, and Mary Agnes stayed in a small blue tent, the four boys in the other big green one, often referred to as a “bachelor pad” should a sister try to enter those hallowed flaps! 

There were occasional brushes with greatness. In the 1960s, Theresa held open an ice cream parlor door for Jackie Kennedy Onassis and John Kennedy Jr. in Hyannis Port; Jackie O never acknowledged her. Years later, was that Burt Lancaster who couldn’t take his eyes off her as she strolled down the ramp of St. James Street on her way to the Irish Pub in Atlantic City?

After Dick’s death in 1998, she moved into center city Philadelphia. The town square she lived on—Rittenhouse Square—was decidedly bigger and more urban than her Emmitsburg address. Her condo in The Dorchester was close to several of her children, but what did that matter—her grandson Daniel lived just a few blocks away! As years passed and mobility became an issue, she was happy at home. 

She lived life her way and was good natured when things came up that she could not control.

She was a creative and intelligent woman without a degree to prove it.

She was a delicate flower with a spine of steel.

Theresa died bathed in love. Her entire family was with her: Mary Agnes, Christopher, John, Richard and his wife Madeline, Tom and his wife Rose, Daniel and his love Nathania.

Relatives and friends are invited to funeral services on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 at Holy Cross Church, 140 E. Mt. Airy Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119. Visitation begins at 10:00 a.m., Funeral Mass at 11:00 a.m. Interment follows at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 3301 W. Cheltenham Avenue, Phila. PA 19150. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Habitat for Humanity or the American Cancer Society.



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Service Schedule

Past Services


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Starts at 10:00 am (Eastern time)

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Funeral Mass

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Starts at 11:00 am (Eastern time)

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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