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High school chaplain turns 9

Tristan Torres, a St. James Academy, Lenexa, sophomore, helps chaplain Father Mark Ostrowski celebrate his ninth birthday. Both are leaplings, born on Leap Day Feb. 29. Tristan is turning 4. The odds of being born on Feb. 29 are 1 in 1,461, or .068%. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

They’re most commonly called leaplings, and they are an extreme minority. That’s why St. James Academy chaplain Father Mark Ostrowski here has never personally met someone who shares his birthday.

Until now.

The odds of being born on Feb. 29 are 1 in 1,461, or .068%.

You have a better chance of catching a foul ball or being born with extra toes.

There are only about five million Leaplings worldwide, but surprisingly, St. James Academy lays claim to three of them — Father Ostrowski, instructor Anna Thiele and student Tristan Torres.

They are 9-, 7- and 4-years-old respectively this year.

And they’re in good company, Superman is also a leapling.

In case you didn’t know, while our calendar year is 365 days, the solar year is 365.24219 days. Leap day realigns the calendar with the Earth’s position in the solar system.

Father Ostrowski became aware of the process, called intercalation, at a very early age.

“Most people don’t know about leap day when they’re little” he said. “But I became aware of it when I was 5; when I realized there were different dates when I would celebrate my birthday.”

Leaplings have the privilege of keeping two sets of ages, annual and quadrennial. So even though Father Ostrowski is 36, he can say he’s only 9.

Fortunately, the legal system recognizes the annual age — so Father Ostrowski doesn’t have to wait until he’s 64 to get his driver’s license.

He got it when he turned 16, and on his real birthday since it was a leap year.

“I did,” he said. “It was fun because (a leapling’s) driver’s license has different days, like ‘not 21 until this day.’

“So, I have different dates on my driver’s license.”

When it’s not a leap year, a leapling’s birthday varies from country to country — and even from state to state.

“In Kansas,” said Father Ostrowski, “legally I turn on the first of March.  But in some places, legally it is the 28th of February.

“So, you could have your birthday twice.”

When the real leap year birthday rolls around, leaplings tend to celebrate fourfold.

“It’s really exciting,” said Father Ostrowski. “In college, it was a lot of fun because people really went out of their way to get me gifts that were particular to my age.

“Even at age 36 now, it feels different, more exciting than just a regular year,” he said. “I don’t have to think — the 28th or the 1st — which one do I want to take?

“The 29th feels good.”

But he’s leaving the planning for his big celebrations up to friends.

“I’ll be doing whatever they arrange for the night,” he said. “But it will be great.”

And if you think you might have a leapling baby in your future, Father Ostrowski recommends considering it a blessing.

“People who have their birthday on leap day actually love it,” he said. “People remember it, it’s special and it’s a good thing.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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