Only two popes have earned the title Great—Gregory I and Leo I. Leo was born in the beginning of the fifth century, probably in Rome. When he was a deacon, other church leaders looked to him for advice and for explanations of the faith. Leo was sent to settle arguments between leaders. He was on such a mission in 440 when he was elected pope. He helped the Church stay united when it was being attacked inside by false teachers and outside by warring tribes.
In 452, the Huns, led by Attila, marched toward Rome to destroy the city. Pope Leo went out to meet Attila and was able to stop him by agreeing to pay tribute to him every year. Three years later, another tribe marched on Rome—the Vandals, led by Genseric. Again Leo went out to meet the enemy, but this time, Leo was only able to stop the tribe from burning the city. For two weeks, the Vandals pillaged and looted Rome while the people sought shelter in the churches. Leo helped rebuild the city after the invaders departed, and he then sent missionaries to Africa to minister to those who had been captured and taken there by the Vandals.
Leo is often remembered for his writings and explanations of the faith, especially during the Council of Chalcedon in 451. His words were so powerful that the 600 bishops gathered there felt they had heard Saint Peter speaking through Leo. Pope Leo the Great died in 461.
Leo was pope for 21 years. Have the students look up the reigns of the popes. Ask them questions such as the following: Whose reign was the longest? Whose was the shortest? What names appear most often?
Declare the day “Pray for the Pope Day.”
Have the students draw a picture of the meeting of Leo and Attila or Genseric.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Saint Leo Magnus by Francisco Herrera the Younger, 17th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia.