80-year-old volunteer says the Blessed Mother has 'never let me down'

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

The Twice Blessed Resale Shop off of Meramec Street has more than doubled its revenue the past few years.

Store manager Lucy Hannegan doesn't credit a new marketing strategy or an improvement in the quality of merchandise coming into the thrift store -- she credits 80-year-old volunteer Leonard Kinealy.

"He's our hero. He's here virtually every single day we're open. He's a great face in the neighborhood," she said. "He doesn't just sit and read the paper. He's always moving things around and cleaning. He's very proactive."

"I can't stand sitting around," said Kinealy.

Our Lady's Inn offers shelter and resources to pregnant women and mothers with children facing homelessness. The resale shop provides employment experiences for residents, and all proceeds support Our Lady's Inn. Most volunteers who help support the store give a few hours per month or per week of their time. Not Kinealy. He opens and closes the store every day that it operates, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Except for Thursday afternoons -- he spends that time at a nearby adoration chapel.

He cleans, organizes the store, rearranges the merchandise, greets visitors and wins them over with his genuine smile and joyful personality. And since he started volunteering, the store has seen an increase in profits. When asked why he spends so much time volunteering at the store, his answer is simple: "I like being here. And I owe the Blessed Mother an awful lot."

Thanking the Blessed Mother is what motivates Kinealy to spend each day volunteering -- after he attends daily Mass, of course.

Kinealy was born in St. Louis and grew up in Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in south St. Louis, to which he still belongs. He graduated from Christian Brothers College High School, and earned an engineering degree from St. Louis University in 1960 after a brief stint in the Army. He retired from the highest civilian position in the Department of Defense in 1999.

Kinealy began volunteering at Twice Blessed in early 2012 after having brought donations to the store for several months. Hannegan opened a second store down the street from the shop and needed help managing both the new store and "the Annex," which sells mostly furniture.

Without him, said Hannegan, the Annex wouldn't exist.

And if it weren't for Kinealy, Our Lady's Inn and the community surrounding the resale shop would be missing an integral element.

"A lot of people know him, check up on him, and come in to talk to him," Hannegan said.

Visitors come in to the store looking for a particular item, and often leave having made a new friend in Kinealy. For him, meeting people is one of the major benefits of volunteering.

"It's just nice down here. You meet all kinds of people, all types of religions, young, old -- everything. Not all are Catholic, but they all love God," he said. "Some people come in just to talk. I enjoy it. And I believe in what Our Lady's Inn is doing."

As a young man, Kinealy "spent an awful lot of time" in front of the Blessed Mother's altar at Our Lady of Sorrows as an altar server. Throughout his life, he says, Our Lady has always helped and protected him.

"You're taught that all prayers are answered. And often times you ask for something and it doesn't happen. But other things happen that you never prayed for that you really needed. To Jesus through Mary," he said.

When he served in Korea in the U.S. Army from 1955-57, his faith sustained him as he left St. Louis for the first time for the foreign, war-torn region. "I got to know the chaplain and would always go to Mass and confession," he said. "It kept my sanity."

Kinealy says that Our Lady protected him constantly during his time in the service.

"Some dumb things happened (in Korea) and the Blessed Mother always helped me," he said. "A sergeant walked us through a mine field and none of us got hurt. Nothing happened."

"My first sergeant decided he was going to make me learn how to drive because I didn't know how," he continued. Kinealy ended up accidentally speeding down a steep hill backward with the jeep in reverse. He thanks the Blessed Mother for keeping him safe.

But it's not only in wartime that Our Lady watches out for him -- even the little things, like driving. He says several times Our Lady has kept him from accidents on the road.

"She's helped me plenty."

Volunteering at the resale shop reminds Kinealy of how blessed he is.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "You learn how to appreciate what you have because an awful lot of people have nothing. And they don't go whining. They accept it. I could be a better person if I'd learn how to accept the things that I don't have. Then you meet other people who have whatever they need but they don't flaunt it."

It's all about humility: "You have to learn to appreciate what you have and what you had to do to get it."

Kinealy recognizes that retirement provides a lot of free time, but also the incredible opportunity to help others. "Older people have the time and they almost don't seem to know what to do with it. I think older people need to realize that they can use their free time and get a lot out of it, to teach other people," he said. "This gives me an opportunity to talk to people and share experiences. I love it down here."

Hannegan said Kinealy is her "right hand" around the store. But to Kinealy, the hours he spends at Twice Blessed are just a way of saying "thank you" to Mary.

"To Jesus through Mary. Some people might think it sounds hokey but I know it's not. If I didn't get what I wanted, I got something that I never asked for but needed more than what I wanted," he said with a smile. "She's never let me down."

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