Remembering Dolores Leckey, APAH Co-Founder, 1933-2023

By Nina Janopaul, former APAH President and CEO (2007 – 2021)


Dolores Leckey, 2004.

On January 25th, Carmen Romero and I sat in the pews at Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) as family, friends, and colleagues offered tributes to Dolores Leckey, APAH co-founder, at a quiet, Quaker-like prayer service. She was recognized (with reverence) within the Catholic Church as: “The Dolores Leckey.” One speaker noted that Dolores was “born busy.”

Dolores led a remarkable life: author of 12 books on spirituality and faith, recipient of numerous honorary doctorates and awards, founding director of the Secretariat for the Laity at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (1977 – 1997), senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Seminary at Georgetown University (1988 – 2014), and mother of four children. She was a trailblazer—often the only woman and lay person on the staff of these leading Catholic institutions. Her last book, “Reviewed: Scenes From A Long Life,” recounts her extraordinary efforts to promote the ministry of the laity and to fulfill the promise of Vatican II within the Catholic Church. It was just published in December 2022.

Dolores Leckey (1933 – 2023) passed away on January 17 at age 89 after a brief illness. We honor Dolores as one of the eight co-founders of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). Her husband, Tom Leckey, was APAH’s first (unpaid) Executive Director. Tom passed away in 2003.

In 1964, Dolores Leckey approached the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace, then a predominantly Black church, for advice on racial justice. The priest at that time, Father David Ray, responded by reciting a Langston Hughes poem and urging Dolores to read Evelyn Underhill, an Anglican laywoman and theologian. This conversation was transformational. Dolores understood that “one could not pursue a social justice agenda without cultivating the innermost part of one’s soul” – a theme echoed in APAH’s founding 25 years later.

Top (L-R): Joe Wholey, Bill Nary, Jack Sweeney, Tom Leckey.
Bottom: Jean Sweeney, Midge Wholey, Rhonda Nary,
Dolores Leckey.

The four founding couples of APAH were members of a prayer group for many decades. The Christian Family Movement (CFM) within the Catholic Church promoted small groups to meet, pray, study, and grow their faith. In 1986, the four couples began studying the Pastoral Letter on Economic Justice from the US Catholic Bishops, which inspired them to address the need for affordable housing in Arlington. From the report: “This letter is a personal invitation to Catholics to use the resources of our faith, the strength of our economy, and the opportunities of our democracy to shape a society that better protects the dignity and basic rights of our sisters and brothers, both in this land and around the world.” Each couple contributed $250 and APAH was born.

Jeanne Sweeney, one of APAH’s co-founders, reports being invited into Dolores Leckey’s circle when she first moved to Arlington in 1968. At confession, her priest handed her Dolores’ phone number: “he must have heard the longing in my heart.” Jeanne’s own impressive social justice career included pastoral leadership roles at St. Charles Borromeo and prison ministry. In 2020, she joined Arlington Presbyterian Church, APAH’s partner at Gilliam Place. She delights in “coming full circle” back to APAH.

Jack Sweeney provided real estate expertise in the early years of APAH. Jack and Tom Leckey organized the purchase of the first Fisher House properties in Westover and provided the sweat equity to prepare them as rentals. Jack cheerfully recalls that the Leckey’s kitchen table – APAH’s original office – was buried in housing paperwork for many years. The Sweeney’s daughter Annie works for affordable housing at AHC, another local nonprofit.

Joe Wholey recounts: “we planned APAH around the Leckey’s kitchen table.” Joe was a former County Board member, business professor and advisor to the General Accounting Office. His wife Midge served on the APAH board for many years. APAH profiled the Wholey’s in 2021:”

Like Dolores, co-founder Rhoda Nary wrote several theology books. Her husband Bill Nary passed away in 2011 after a long career in public service, including work at the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

APAH founders at the 15th anniversay of APAH in 2004.
(L-R): Jack Sweeney, Jean Sweeney, Bill Nary,
Dolores Leckey, Joe Wholey, Midge Wholey.

Jean Falvey, APAH’s Executive Director from 1993 to 2000, reports that the organization named the Leckey Gardens Apartments for the amazing Leckey couple. Jean had the privilege to work with Dolores as a consultant to the Woodstock Seminary after her time at APAH. She recalled Dolores as: “intelligent, quietly forceful, and especially adept at getting people to work together.”

Mary and Patrick Hynes were asked to contribute to APAH when it started. They gave readily, confident in the talented founders. Patrick’s mother Arleen provided spiritual leadership for the four couples in the 1970’s. Like the founders, the Hynes family was engaged in civil rights issues in Arlington. In 1962, the Hynes family received permission from the Bishop to join OLQP, one of the first White families. Patrick and Mary are members there today.

APAH has grown dramatically from a kitchen table operation into a high-performing, regional nonprofit. The dream of the founders lives on in the organization’s commitment to social justice, racial reconciliation, and opportunity for all. The inspiration of the founders motivated me during my 14 years as APAH’s CEO and continues to speak to Carmen Romero today, as she leads the next phase of the organization’s growth. While much has changed, and will continue to change, the legacy of the founders continues.

APAH is blessed by the contributions of its eight original founders and by the generations of volunteers, board members, donors, and staff who shared their vision. Dolores ends her memoir with a quote from T.S. Eliot: “in my end is my beginning.” May it be so.