About Leo

Leo Watt is an Australian songwriter, teacher and former Franciscan priest. He has shared his life of rich experiences through music, writing songs of devotion and spirituality that were sung by thousands of Aussies across generations. He still actively composes and his music is available for new generations and congregations.
Early Years
He was born Ronald Watt (before the Second World War broke out) in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1938, to working class parents living in a tiny semi-detached house that was about 100 years old. Newcastle was a coal mining and steel town and his family had ties back to Wales and Ireland, with his mother a convert to Catholicism. It was a close and religious family where he ended up being the only altar boy in the family, a family that loved sing-a-longs.
The Path to the Franciscans
He was educated by the St Joseph Sisters and the Marist Brothers. At the age of 12, he went to a Junior Seminary for 4 years of secondary education that formed the first step on the way to being a priest, and received an excellent education from the Friars. Then in 1956, he was accepted into the novitiate, gave up everything he owned (which wasn't much) and had to take a religious name. He asked to have his father's name (Canice) but ended up being given the religious name of Leo, a name he liked and has stuck with, except when he is back with his family.

Over the next 8 years he was away from home, isolated from the world of newspapers, music and films and took simple vows, then solemn vows, studied philosophy and theology, Greek and Hebrew, gained a marvelous education in church music, classical music and art. Finally he had to ask for a papal dispensation to be ordained because he was too young and went back to his home after 8 years to be ordained there. As part of his ordination gifts he was able to buy a guitar which he had learned to play in advance by chord marks on a piece of timber.

Life as a Franciscan
After one year in Sydney he went to Townsville for 3 years as assistant parish priest, and occasionally as relief chaplain to the lepers on Fantome Island and aboriginals at Palm Island where he performed baptisms, weddings and had time to play music with them. Because the parish was small, he had time to begin composing music; singing at parish socials, giving talks and retreats.

Musical Career
The Friar Who Rocked
Leo's love of music and his knack of crafting easy to sing, folk-based tunes brought a new energy to church music in a time where the Catholic church was shaking off the shackles of the old Latin mass post the Second Vatican Council. After finding his voice in North Queensland, a move to Kedron in Brisbane gave him to opportunity to write and compose music, surrounded by young parishioners and with access to other talented musicians. Here, he released the EPs Altar of God (with The Founders) and Sing Once, Pray Twice (with The Kedron Singers), along with the album, Things We Dream (with The Clefs). His new connections with music industry peers saw him land his own five-minute late night TV show called "Heavens Above", which was the nightly sign off for the network. He also performed on radio and at major venues like Brisbane's Festival Hall (the same venue welcomed The Beatles in the same year).

Moving South
Leaving the Priesthood
After a productive period in Brisbane, Leo was transferred to Sydney as Vocations Director and tried hard to be successful at this but found he could not continue the lifestyle. After much soul-searching, he asked for a dispensation from vows and priesthood. Meantime he began teaching at Kilbreda College in Melbourne and began night classes to gain his Dip. Ed. And worked as a cleaner each morning before heading off to teach classes of 50 teenage girls.
44 Years of Marriage
A Different Kind of Father
1973 he met his wife, Nonie and her two girls-Joanne (aged 2) and Rosemary (aged 15 months ). Her husband had been killed when a tree fell on their car as they were driving home. They married civilly at first until the papal dispensation came through and then were married by a Franciscan in a Franciscan parish, with a papal blessing from Pope Paul VI. Their son, Bernard, was born in 1975.

They moved to Kedron in Queensland where Nonie finished her teacher training and both have taught in catholic schools till Leo's retirement in 2005 and Nonie's breast cancer shortly after that.

Now, at the age of 77, Leo can look back on a marvelous life experience that not many people have and has seen life through the eyes of a priest, folk-singer, husband, father, grandfather, teacher and is still writing music that is being used around the country even after 40 years.

These days the Catholic Church does not allow children at a tender age to go into seminary training. He missed a lot of normal adolescence and family life, but in other ways has gained so much for which he is grateful.