Father Sandro A. Leyton

Left his hometown in Colombia to serve in New York


From an early age, Father Sandro A. Leyton, 30, knew he wanted to enter the priesthood. It was just a matter of where.

After graduating from high school in Colombia, he entered the Missionary Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 2000. He remained with them for eight years, but never professed final vows. A trip to Minneapolis, Minn., to learn English changed his life forever.

He was born in Ipiales, Nariño, Colombia, to Manuel J. Leyton Fuertes and Sixta L. Rodriguez Lopzel. He has a brother and a sister.

“When I was in Minneapolis, I left the congregation. My first decision was to go back to Colombia and join the diocese in my hometown,” he said.

In 2008, through word of mouth, he heard of Father Luis Saldaña, who was the archdiocese’s director of vocations to the priesthood for Hispanics, and Msgr. Michael Hull, then rector of the St. John Neumann Residence.

“I liked the idea of working with Hispanics here in New York,” he said.

Along the way, Father Leyton had to overcome many challenges. “When I came to this country, there was a new culture for me,” he said. “I love English as a language, but it’s a really difficult language to learn.”

At St. Joseph’s Seminary, an apostolic assignment at the Westchester Correctional Facility in Valhalla—which he viewed as his most challenging, but also the most rewarding—confirmed his love of the priesthood. He assisted Father Paul Tove, director of pastoral care.

At first, he said he was afraid to enter the prison. “The first thing that comes to mind is that these are bad people,” he said. What he discovered when he started interacting with the inmates changed his view of human life.

“Sometimes life can be so difficult for some people,” he said. As he learned more about the inmates, he discovered that “the only thing some of them have left is God.”

“You can see the happiness they have,” when they see someone with a clerical collar, he said. “That helped me to see the beauty of this vocation.”

As he looks toward his priesthood, he is most excited about consecrating the Eucharist for the most time. “I feel a mixture of happiness and amazement when I think about what it is going to be like,” he said. “It’s a deep feeling of gratitude to God that I am going to be able to do that and participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”

“The whole first Mass is important,” he noted, but the moment of consecration is one that he hopes he never forgets. “When we consecrate the bread and wine, we are able to feed the people of God, to nourish them so they can continue in their lives, continue working, and continue getting them closer to God,” he said.

He looks forward to serving the people of New York. “I think it’s a wonderful place with wonderful people,” he said.

“I feel at home here even though it’s a different culture and society,” Father Leyton said. “I feel really happy here.”

Father Leyton will celebrate his first Mass at St. Theresa’s Church, the Bronx, on Sunday, May 26 at 2:30 p.m. Father Thomas Berg, professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, will be the homilist.