Pierre T. Leonidas
BY TRONE DOWD
Pastor Pierre T. Leonidas, the Haiti-born leader of Jamaica’s Bethany French Baptist Church—died on Monday. He was 85.
Senior Pastor Edy Bichotte spoke with the Press of Southeast Queens about the impact that Leonidas had on the community.
“We had a long story,” Bichotte said. “He had never even met me before and took me in as if I were a son.”
According to Bichotte, this was how Leonidas dealt with everyone in the community.
“All the kids loved him,” Bichotte laughed. “He always had money or something for them. He was a special person, an open person. If he saw something in you that he could deal with, or he could see a potential in you that he could deal with or promote, he would do it. That was just his style. It is the reason why I am where I am today.”
Leonidas was born in Jeremie in 1932. In his home country, the pastor had a modest upbringing, attending both primary and secondary schools in Port-au-Prince. He attended L’Ecole de Police Sanitaire, receiving his diploma in 1952 and worked for the Department of Health.
Three years after graduating, Leonidas decided to switch gears. With a mind and passion for politics, he took a position with the Department of National Economy.
Bichotte told the Press of Southeast Queens that his mentor was always interested in politics.
“He always spoke about it,” he recalled. “When he was asked about anything in the political area, he would open up widely to speak about it. It was always in his heart.”
His ambitions clashed with Haiti’s political climate of the 1950s, when the country was under the rule of dictator Francois Duvalier. Leonidas’ ideas were deemed too radical for the regime and he was exiled from his home country, where he would have faced execution had he not fled.
“He was a good writer,” Bichotte said. “That scared the government. They killed [Duvalier’s opponents] publicly—shot them. It was a tough time.”
Leaving behind all that he knew, he moved to New York City in 1965 with his long-time sweetheart, Adeline Cadet. The couple had three kids. At this time, Leonidas found solace in embracing Christianity and attended Brooklyn’s Clermont Church.
He attended school at Queens College, earning his bachelor’s degree in social science, with a goal of starting a career in ministry and dedicating his life to inspiring others through the word of God in accordance with the Christian faith.
“He never took anything for himself,” Bichotte said. “He always tried to share. He always felt that someone needed to be in that position by the grace of God.”
He would continue to pursue his dream, obtaining his theological training at Southern Baptist Seminary Extension.
It was from there that he earned his Masters of Divinity degree and went on to become the ordained pastor of Bethany French Baptist Church in 1978.
The congregation was founded in Leonidas’ living room and quickly grew. First located in a YMCA at Parsons Boulevard and 90th Avenue, the church finally found a permanent home at 90-21 160th St. in 1979.
In 2009, he earned recognition from the City Council. State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica) told the Press of Southeast Queens that it was “easy to honor someone of his stature.”
“He always had a large and respected outreach. He was someone who was always embracing the spirit of change,” Comrie said. “He really allowed for an integration of his church and the activities of the community.”
Members of the church and community mourned Leonidas’ death on April 3.
“Humanity really lost someone special in him,” Bichotte said. “He was truly someone special.”
Leonidas is survived by two of his children and his wife.