Father Daniel Greenleaf has been Prince of Peace Parish pastor and the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul rector since 2019. As the local religious figure for many Catholics in the Lewiston area, he was a leader as the world mourned the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI several weeks ago. He recently agreed to talk about the basilica’s unique relationship to the Vatican and a sitting pope, and about his own relationship to the late pope.

Father Daniel Greenleaf greets parishioners earlier this month after the 10:30 Sunday morning Mass at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Greenleaf also conducts mass at Holy Family Church in Lewiston and Holy Trinity Church in Lisbon Falls. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“Basilicas are also known as ‘the pope’s church,'” said Greenleaf, which means one of the major responsibilities shouldered by the rector of a minor basilica is to serve as steward when the pope, the official pastor, is not present.

Benedict’s passing was particularly meaningful to Greenleaf, who while in seminary learned from Benedict’s theological and philosophical works. From more than 260 popes and countless cardinals, bishops and other church leaders over 2,000 years, Greenleaf said it was Benedict, known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger while Greenleaf was in seminary, who had the deepest effect on his philosophy and spiritual journey.

Here are some other things you might not know about Father Greenleaf, who still likes to rock ‘n’ roll and wants you to know God gave rock ‘n’ roll to you, too.

Tell  us about your background. My name is Daniel Greenleaf and I was born and raised in Biddeford. I attended St. Joseph Grade School and Biddeford High School. I was in the class of 1984. I then attended University of Southern Maine and worked as an accountant for a company in Portland. I left for seminary in August of 1990 at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., graduated in 1995 and was ordained a priest May 13, 1995.

How and why did you decide to go to seminary and become a priest? Or if it’s more appropriate, when did you know?There have been many situations that all worked together for my decision to enter seminary and study for the priesthood. It is tied up with my search for why I was born. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but as a kid, I was always interested in philosophy and theology. The earliest was when I was in the 6th grade and was at the bedside of my grandmother as she passed away. I remember having a profound experience of the question of God. After that, it set me on a path of questioning faith, God, why is there something rather than nothing, why suffering and death?


Has your path always been clear to you or have there been some surprises along the way? It has not always been clear to me. I question my decision when things go wrong. The sexual abuse crisis in the church made me question a lot and come to some very deep reflections. I have always wanted to write about a parish priest’s experience of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, like how did we understand all that was happening and how it impacted us. Guilt by association was something I had to work through. I think that seeing close friends of mine give up the priesthood was a difficult experience, and like any marriage — that experience of friends who get divorced — it makes you question. On the positive side, I would have to say the impact of how people affected my priesthood was a significant surprise. The parish and so many people are so, so good. They are certainly better than I am, and to be with them has been a great love of my life. Going to study in Rome was also a great gift to me because I got to meet Pope John Paul II and introduce my parents to him.

What are some of your interests and/or hobbies outside the church? What don’t most people know about you? Most people do not know that I am a big KISS fan and have seen them in concert a number of times. I love to ski and hike, and I am a big fan of riding around in the summer in my Jeep Wrangler.

Your explanation of the relationship between a minor basilica, the basilica’s rector and the Pope, which you detailed at the Mass for the Repose of the Soul of Pope Benedict XVI, was intriguing. Can you explain how that all shaped you along the way to becoming rector? To be honest with you, my first desire was to return to Lewiston, Maine, and be pastor of the Prince of Peace Parish, which included being rector of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. It is part of the parish and the assignment. I had been in Lewiston from 1999 to 2003 when I taught at St. Dominic High School and living at St. Patrick’s. My last year, I was assigned administrator of St. Joseph’s Church. After this time, I went to Rome, Italy. I returned because of my father’s cancer and was assigned to Holy Cross Church on Lisbon Street (from) 2004-2008. I then returned to Rome for one more year. The bishop was looking for someone to come to Lewiston in 2019, and I jumped at it. By this time, all the (Lewiston Catholic) churches had come together and it included the basilica. Now I have a great love for the building, especially in its relationship to the wider diocese and the pope.

What is the most important part of your day? The most satisfying? I would have to say that the most important part of my day is saying Holy Mass for the people. The most satisfying is when I see someone light up because he or she has come to see the truth of faith.

Aside from the Holy Bible, what do you suggest people looking for wisdom, philosophy and spirituality read? That would be a very long list to offer you. My attraction is really for Catholic philosophy and theology. My advanced degree is in spirituality and my focus is on classic Catholic spirituality. I am also a big fan of Bishop Robert Barren and most of what comes out of “Word on Fire” online. I struggle with a lot of the contemporary philosophy and spirituality because I believe it does not have the depth of reflection and experience to speak to the complex issues of today, such as suffering, pain, self-understanding and acceptance. What most people reject of the Catholic faith is something they think we believe or is a sound bite or slogan for a poster. The true Catholic tradition that has stood for centuries has a much deeper well to draw from.

Comments are no longer available on this story