Leen, Edward (1885–1944), priest and academic, was born 17 August 1885 at Abbeyfeale, West Limerick, the son of Daniel Leen, a shopkeeper, and his wife Margaret (née Barrett). Born into a large catholic family of 14 children, of whom seven died in their youth, Leen received his primary education at Old Town national school. In 1896 he entered Rockwell College, where he won many prizes and distinctions and demonstrated excellence in the study of ancient classics as well as being an accomplished rugby player. An impulsive and ambitious character, he was retained by the college as a junior master. In May 1901 he entered UCD, graduating BA (RUI) with first class honours in mental and moral science. He then entered the Holy Ghost scholasticate in Kimmage, Dublin, and in 1908 was sent to France to complete his noviciate under Fr Pierre Genoud. In 1912 he travelled to Rome to study theology at the Gregorian Pontifical University, which he attended for four years, and in his final DD exam achieved distinction and a gold medal for excellence in dogmatic theology.
Ordained a priest on 6 June 1916, he returned to Kimmage and completed an MA thesis on Thomistic philosophy at UCD and worked at St Mary's College, Rathmines as director of seminarians. The Maynooth mission to China, launched in 1916, had a deep impact on the Holy Ghost fathers, and Leen in particular was drawn to the missionary idea and began editing a Holy Ghost periodical, Missionary Annals. In November 1920 he departed for Southern Nigeria as secretary to Joseph Shanahan (qv), bishop elect in Southern Nigeria. As revealed in contributions to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Leen, who was catechetical inspector for the vicariate, found in the African character ‘natural dignity, native kindliness, wonderful fortitude and genuine manliness’ (O'Carroll, 60). He returned to Dublin in August 1922 and joined the staff of Blackrock College, Co. Dublin, where he encouraged a widening of the curriculum and was appointed dean of studies. Well known in Dublin as a lecturer on spiritual life, he created controversy owing to his views on the theology of the mass and the inner disposition of the soul. The catholic hierarchy believed his arguments contained objectionable doctrine and he was forced to withdraw his views.
In September 1925 he was appointed president of Blackrock College, where he was a keen promoter of student participation in the lay apostolate. He also acted as spiritual director of the Convent of the Holy Rosary, Killeshandra, Co. Cavan, which prepared nuns for missionary work in Africa. Although regarded in some quarters as a poor administrator of unreliable judgement, he could be encouraging and sympathetic when dealing with individuals.
In 1931, following the completion of his term as president of Blackrock, he was appointed professor of psychology and ethics in the senior scholasticate at the college, and began to concentrate on scholarly work, revealing himself as a forthright and enthusiastic Aristotelian. His subsequent publications included Progress through mental prayer (1935), where he made a determined linking of prayer with the general direction of the spiritual life, The holy ghost (1937), a book more in the realm of dogmatic theology, and In the likeness of Christ (1942), a systematic analysis of the mind of Christ through the stages of his earthly existence. Leen maintained an austere adherence to the spiritual ideal, and despite suffering from arthritis continued to lecture publicly and give retreats in convents. After completing a lecture tour of America (1938–9), he was appointed superior of the Holy Ghost College, Kimmage, and contributed articles to the periodical Studies on African history, ethnology and religion. As well as writing about architecture he became involved with the Mercier Society, which provided a discussion forum for intellectuals of different denominations. He died 10 November 1944 at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, and was survived by his brother James Leen (1888–1949), archbishop of Port Louis, Mauritius (1926–49).