Re-Charged: The South Carolina Catholic Men’s Conference

With Lent starting this Wednesday, I wanted to do something that would help prepare me for the holy season. Luckily, there was an event this past weekend that did just that.

On Saturday, I attended the South Carolina Catholic Men’s Conference. Held this year in Columbia, the conference is put on by the South Carolina State Council of the Knights of Columbus in support of the Diocese of Charleston. I registered to attend about three weeks ago and had enthusiastically looked forward to the event since then.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the South Carolina Catholic Men’s Conference.

I woke up at 4 a.m. on Saturday and met two gentlemen from our local Knights of Columbus council (Myrtle Beach #5086) in the Kroger parking lot. From there we drove together to Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia where the conference was held. The camaraderie I was able to share with my brother knights from my own council was one of the best parts of the trip! I had the privilege of traveling with our Grand Knight, Tom McElligott, and Paul Jenkins. Both men have been knights for years and are so strong in their faith. I was honored that they included me.

When we arrived at Cardinal Newman we checked in and then went inside the cafeteria for breakfast. Another great part of the conference that didn’t necessarily relate to the content covered was the opportunity to meet other male Catholics from across the state. It was a joy to chat with other guys my age who are just as dedicated to the principles of Catholicism as me.

I had the opportunity to hang with some great Catholic men. Directly across from me are Knights from own council (Grand Knight Tom McElligott in the the striped blue long sleeve shirt and Paul Jenkins in the glasses). To my left is Jeff Bips from Aiken and on the same side as Tom and Paul is Crawford Melton from Columbia. I met Jeff and Crawford on Saturday (*Photo courtesy of Eric Cannon).

The conference kicked off in earnest with mass. We filled the chapel at Cardinal Newman High School to hear the holy word and partake in the Eucharist. The gospel was about Jesus rebuking the elders who tried to keep children from approaching him (Mark 10:13-16) and Msgr. Richard Harris preached about the necessity of letting God form us in the way glassmakers creatively form their own work. Although I believe women have much better voices than men, it was unique and special to hear a gathering of only males singing the hymns with sincerity and reverence.

I snapped this photo of the Cardinal Newman chapel in the middle of the day. Not only was mass and adoration held inside it, but it was open throughout the conference for people to pray.

After mass we headed to the theater for the speakers. Father Dwight Longenecker, a priest and author from the Diocese of Charleston, spoke about the root of sin. From the beginning with Adam and Eve up until now, all sins (lower case) originate from one Sin (upper case), pride. Father Longenecker explained that people base their existence on being right and persecute those who deviate from their world construct.

Father Longenecker provided great Catholic insight throughout the day.

My eyes were opened and spiritual battery re-charged when the next speaker gave his address. Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers is a celebrity in the Catholic world, appearing constantly on EWTN (total geek-out moment for me). The conference was able to book him and boy did he deliver! He spoke about how to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man. Some of what he said brought tears to my eyes and I saw Sidney and Sloan in a different light after he was done speaking.

Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, aka the “Dynamic Deacon,” is an INCREDIBLE speaker. He taught me a lot about how I can be a better Catholic man.

When the morning concluded, we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. It was another chance to talk with fellow Catholics and make connections.

The afternoon portion of the conference opened with holiness and grace. Father Flores, a priest from St. Mary in Aiken, led Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel. Through word, song, and plenty of sacred silence, us men adored the Blessed Sacrament. To be in the presence of Christ during Holy Hour was the perfect way to break up the two halves of the conference.

After adoration, it was back to the theater. We were blessed to hear from both Father Longenecker and Deacon Harold again. Both men discussed ways to fight against Satan. Father Longenecker counseled us to speak truth, accept responsibility, pray, and defeat evil.

A look at the Cardinal Newman Theater as the speakers were introduced (*Photo courtesy of Eric Cannon).

When Deacon Harold came back up to the podium, he used David vs. Goliath as a metaphor for the modern man vs. the devil battle. He reminded us that the Catholic Church gives us plenty of “slingshot ammunition” to keep Satan away. Saying the rosary, receiving the sacraments, going to mass, and showing up for adoration are just a few of the “weapons” in the Catholic “arsenal” for protecting ourselves. Deacon Harold spoke about temptations that men face and reminded us of our duty to always put the women in our lives first. If only you could hear his preaching style…

Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers pulled out his rosary to show us a valuable “weapon” we can use when faced with evil.

Aside from what I briefly outlined, a lot of other things went on during the conference. Confession was offered, songs were performed between sessions, vendors sold spiritually enriching materials, and the chapel was always open if you wanted to go pray. As I mentioned above, it was a day that allowed you to re-charge.

I want to thank the South Carolina State Council of the Knights of Columbus for holding the conference. I also want to thank the Knights of Columbus Council #6847 for handling the event logistics. Most of all, I want to thank Tom and Paul of my own council for allowing me to go with them to this awesome conference. I really enjoyed hanging out with both guys. I can’t wait for next year! If you have any questions about becoming Catholic, or if you have been away from the faith and want to return, never hesitate to reach out to me. Don’t Blink.

A Sunny Day in Charleston

I know Charleston well. Besides Myrtle Beach and Conway, there is no other South Carolina town I feel more connected to than the state’s oldest city. Charleston is where I took my first road trip with Sid, where I spent time with my family during our wedding week, where a talented doctor cured Sloan of a scary condition, and where we routinely go to hop on planes to take us across the country.

Today I had the chance to visit this special city again. I took the day off from work because Sidney had a couple doctor appointments at MUSC in Charleston. After dropping off Sloan at daycare, we drove two hours to Chucktown for our day trip. Because Sid’s appointments were spread out, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, we had the middle of the day to explore a bit.

We spent today in Charleston. We could not have asked for a prettier day.

With the first appointment out of the way, we went to a restaurant in the West Ashley district of the city called 3 Matadors. The tequilaria offered an eclectic Mexican menu in a rustic setting. We enjoyed a meal together without a certain busy girl climbing on booths and overturning salt and pepper shakers.

We ate at 3 Matadors Tequileria, a restaurant in West Ashley. I ordered a burrito bowl.

We then drove to downtown Charleston and walked up and down famous King Street on an absolutely gorgeous late February day. We popped in several different stores and enjoyed the special and historic atmosphere that surrounded us.

The Charleston streets were sun soaked today.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t soak up the sunny streets as much as we would have liked. Sidney’s second appointment was drawing near and we needed to get to the doctor’s office. Conveniently, this one was at a downtown MUSC office opposed to the one from earlier that took place in a Charleston suburb.

We enjoyed looking at the shops on Kings Street; we even found a really cool Catholic bookstore.

The final appointment concluded and we were almost ready to go home. However, we needed to check an item off our list before leaving Charleston. As we prepared to exit the city, we stopped at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the mother church of the Diocese of Charleston. Although I have lived in South Carolina for almost five years, I had never visited the cathedral, despite being married and having Sloan baptized within the diocese. To finally walk through the holy doors of St. John the Baptist was special.

Today I visited the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the mother church of the Diocese of Charleston. I snapped these photos during our visit and was very intrigued by its long history.

Our day wasn’t done just yet. Although technically outside of Charleston, we stopped at nearby Mount Pleasant to visit the Baby Gap. It is photo day for Sloan on Friday and Sid wanted to get her a dress. After finally settling on an outfit, we celebrated a great day by sharing an ice cream cone at Marble Slab.

We concluded our trip with some ice cream at Marble Slab.

Inspired by watching “Bohemian Rhapsody” yesterday, we listened to Queen on the way back to Myrtle Beach. We picked up Sloan and made it home, just a tad bit tired. Regardless of fatigue, it sure was nice to spend a sunny Monday with my wife in a city that means a lot to us both. Don’t Blink.

Thursday Rundown Within A Thursday Rundown

All is right here in Myrtle Beach. After some chilly temperatures, even by my own standards, we are back to 70 degrees. We are also back to the Thursday Rundown! Let’s get started…

Convocation of Priests – On Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to attend mass with a bunch of priests! The Diocese of Charleston held its 2018 Convocation of Priests retreat in Myrtle Beach. During the retreat, the group met for daily mass at St. Andrew. I attended the Tuesday service and had a nice time listening to Bishop Guglielmone and worshipping alongside every priest in the diocese. You will never attend a mass with more enthusiasm and crisp responses than one with 50 ordained disciples of God in the pews. Adding to a memorable night was reconnecting with Msgr. LeBlanc for the first time since he left St. Andrew about 10 months ago.

On Tuesday night, I attended mass at St. Andrew. It was in conjunction with the Convocation of Priests for the Diocese of Charleston. The priests sat up in the front section while parishioners sat in the middle and back sections.

The Lion King – Sidney and I spent our Saturday night watching “The Lion King.” It was a little ironic because we had talked about the movie just a couple days before. We had a nice time watching it for the first time in years. What stuck out to us was how old the animation looked but how beautiful and creative all the songs were. Did you know there is going to be a live action Lion King that comes out in 2019? Seth Rogen is going to play Pumbaa. Get ready!

A photo I took of my TV of one of the more well-known scenes of “The Lion King.”

A Thursday Rundown Within A Thursday Rundown – Five quick thoughts for you…(1) Congrats to Alabama on winning the national championship in thrilling overtime fashion, even if I didn’t make it to the fourth quarter. (2) We watched the 2018 premiere of “This Is Us” on Tuesday night – not the best episode and not the worst. That therapy scene though! (3) Sidney made her Cajun chicken pasta on Wednesday night, it is one of my favorite meals she makes. Trust me, look up the recipe! (4) One of Sidney’s New Year resolutions is to Tweet more. Make sure to follow her at @sidneyreser. (5) On Monday, students returned to Coastal Carolina for the spring semester and it has been great having them back on campus!

Sidney makes a Cajun chicken pasta that is to die for.

Sloan Update at 43 Weeks – Our daughter is doing just fine. She is reaching for us now and will cry if we walk away. It is imperative that we keep a close eye on her at all times because she can move from one end of the living room to the other in a flash. If Sloan knows that Sid is in the master bedroom, she will leave her spot in the living room and use her combination of regular crawling/army crawling to visit her mommy. Although she is not saying any words, she is very vocal! Her smile is as bright and frequent ever.

Here is Sloan’s photo collage at 43 weeks.

Throwback Thursday Baby Style – I snapped the photo on the left of Sloan and her cousin, Henry, at daycare this morning. Aren’t they cute?! Even though they are still babies, it made me think about when they were just newborns. Now they can sit up and eat ice cream! Time goes by so fast.

The photo on the left I took at daycare today. The photo on the right is from when they were newborns.

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Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Happy 1st birthday to Stevie Blair, the daughter of our friends. We can’t wait to celebrate on Saturday. Don’t Blink.

A Man of Faith: Monsignor James LeBlanc

Last weekend, St. Andrew Catholic Church was packed. As is usual for the 4:30 p.m. Saturday vigil this time of year, a standing room only crowd had gathered. A few minutes before mass started, Monsignor James LeBlanc left his spot in the entrance procession. Walking away from the staging area near the vestibule, he started strolling past the rows. Giving the hardworking ushers a big hand, he used his lapel mic to point out to the folks standing against the walls of possible seats within the pews.

“We got some room here.”
“Looks like we got a spot right there.”
“Brothers and sisters, please make sure to move to the center of the pews so others can sit down.”

St. Andrew is not a small church. Msg. LeBlanc had probably went 20 rows deep, almost reaching the altar itself, before turning back around and meeting his altar servers and deacon back at the vestibule. You don’t usually see a pastor of a large parish take on the role of usher but then again you also usually don’t get the opportunity to be in the presence of a special priest like Msgr. LeBlanc.

Msgr. James LeBlanc strolled past several rows of pews inside St. Andrew Catholic Church to try and find seats for the people standing. Try to picture this photo with an overflowing crowd.

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A parish is not defined by its pastor. Rather, it thrives or declines based on the faith of its community. To make this point perfectly clear, the Catholic Church does not keep priests around at one church for too long. Dioceses hand out new assignments to priests on a regular basis, uprooting them from one parish home and transferring them to another.

It is by design that the names on a parish marquee won’t be there forever. However, it is still bittersweet when the priests move on.

Although I understand this thinking and although I have come to expect it after three decades of practicing the faith, it is still bittersweet to see a priest move on. However, when Msgr. LeBlanc announced he would be departing St. Andrew a few weeks ago, I felt more “bitter” than “sweet.”

When Msgr. James LeBlanc announced he was leaving St. Andrew, both Sidney and I couldn’t help but feel sad.

If you know Msgr. LeBlanc, the story about him navigating a crowded church to find seating for those on their feet wouldn’t surprise you. You see, the man just doesn’t fit the mold that some people might concoct of a Catholic priest. Msgr. LeBlanc made no qualms about challenging the congregation to sing louder or say a prayer with more conviction. He liberally exclaimed “AMEN” with the expectation that the congregation would respond with the same (they did). He opened up his homilies for discussion. He wasn’t always 100% politically correct.

But even though he effectively smashed stereotypes that some people might have about how Catholic priests should serve and/or act, make no mistake about it, he was always Catholic to the core. He ran smooth services, gave beautiful homilies, displayed absolute reverence for the Holy Eucharist, and was very knowledgeable about any question you might have about Catholic doctrine. He made me proud about my faith; he made me confident to introduce Sidney to it.

Sidney and Msgr. LeBlanc made quick friends. He helped make me comfortable to introduce Sid to the faith.

St. Andrew is a tough assignment. Serving as an administrator for a large parish is one thing, it requires management and diplomacy skills. But St. Andrew is more than a big community. On any given Sunday, the crowd for that mass could be comprised of 75% vacationers and/or snowbirds. The constant revolving door of new worshippers can throw a wrench into a pastor’s plan for cohesion. Traditions that priests want to instill with their parishes become harder when the population changes drastically week to week. However, Msgr. LeBlanc successfully implemented the type of mass he wanted to run. More importantly, he served as a strong and holy man of faith for the thousands of people who travel to the Myrtle Beach area on a yearly basis. By giving a great impression to our visitors, he not only represented the parish well but the entire Diocese of Charleston.

Sidney and I with Msgr. LeBlanc at his farewell party.

As you can see, Msgr. LeBlanc was an incredible pastor when it came to Sundays. He mastered the responsibilities that many outsiders and even people of the faith think priests solely concentrate on. But Msgr. LeBlanc’s mass presentation, preaching style, and rapport with the audience weren’t the only things that endeared himself to so many during his time at St. Andrew. Rather, it was what he did on the days when the church wasn’t overflowing with people that made him stand out.

Sidney and I had the pleasure of getting married by Msgr. LeBlanc. In addition to listening to a workshop he gave on marriage in the Catholic Church that was open to the parish community, he also privately counseled us. About 10 days before our big day, we met with Msgr. LeBlanc in the parish offices. He blew us away. We chatted for almost two hours, a truly inspiring conversation that touched both Sidney and I. As Sid and I talked later that night, we both expressed how thankful we were for that special time.

About 10 days before our wedding, we sat down with Msgr. LeBlanc for a very spiritual and memorable conversation.

The day of our wedding was incredible. He squashed nerves, provided a sense of calm to the ceremony, and made it special from the entrance procession to the signing of the marriage certificate. He preached about how it wasn’t him that was administering the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony but rather Sidney and myself. We will never forget him coaching Sidney’s 3-year-old nephew to give us the rings right before we said our vows.

The moment where Msgr. LeBlanc coached our nephew, Harrison, to help with the ring delivery. Under LeBlanc’s guidance, Harrison held out the rings so they could be sprinkled with holy water and then he brought them to us.

Whether it was listening to confessions, attending church functions, or pouring his heart into starting the area’s first Catholic high school, Msgr. LeBlanc gave 100%. He didn’t do it for recognition or praise, he just did it for God and the people of the parish. You see, they don’t come more humble than Msgr. LeBlanc. During the summer, a nice reception was held to honor his 20th anniversary to the priesthood. But the truth is that if parish officials had not learned about that milestone themselves at the last minute, Msgr. LeBlanc would have let it pass by without saying a word. He also said next to nothing (at least when I was around)  about his elevation to the rank of Monsignor, a major and holy achievement in the career of any priest. And, as I have been told, any gratuity he received for performing special ceremonies such as weddings went promptly into the collection basket at the next mass.

Msgr. LeBlanc speaking at the reception marking his 20th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.

Msgr. LeBlanc is off to the Columbia area to become pastor of two parishes, Transfiguration Church and St. Theresa Church. Undoubtedly he will touch countless more people. Both parishes are very lucky.

It goes without saying that the community of St. Andrew is so appreciative toward Msgr. LeBlanc. We are sad to see him go. On a personal level, I will really miss listening to him preach. I will miss the way he impacted Sidney, an influence that has helped her express to me that one day she wants to become Catholic. We will both miss him when it comes time for the baptism of our daughter. But more than anything else, we are just thankful. Msgr. LeBlanc touched and enriched our lives and we can’t express our gratitude toward God enough. Don’t Blink.