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.

A Thursday Rundown Full of Variety

Good evening to everyone. I hope the week has gone well and that you are all excited for my latest Thursday Rundown. Here we go!

Eating Steak – Remember last week how I shared with you that Sidney and I received a whole bunch of gift cards for Christmas? Well, now I feel obligated to let you know when and how we used them. Great idea for content, right? Last Friday we went to Outback for dinner. I stayed traditional and got a ribeye steak with mashed potatoes. Sid decided to go with a chicken sandwich. Because we were using house money and because we had worked hard that week, we decided to splurge and get a blooming onion. Thank you to Courtney, my sister-in-law, for giving us the Outback gift card.

On Friday night, we redeemed the Outback gift card that my sister-in-law gave us for Christmas.

On Friday night, we redeemed the Outback gift card that my sister-in-law gave us for Christmas.

Elevated to Monsignor – From time to time I mention Fr. James LeBlanc, the priest who married Sidney and me. During the summer, Fr. LeBlanc hit a milestone when he celebrated his 20th anniversary of ordination. Recently, news broke about an even bigger achievement in his priestly career. Bishop Robert Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston recently announced that Pope Francis had bestowed the title of Reverend Monsignor on LeBlanc. For those a little fuzzy on the Catholic hierarchy, this is a major honor. Congratulations to Monsignor LeBlanc! The two of us are proud of you and honored that you married us.

Father James LeBlanc is now Monsignor LeBlanc. Congratulations!

Father James LeBlanc is now Monsignor LeBlanc. Congratulations!

Proud Time for South Carolina – As I predicted, Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night. This achievement was special for our state in many ways, including the fact that South Carolina is now home to the reigning NCAA baseball champions and reigning NCAA football champions. A lot of people on social media made sure to celebrate this show of dominance. Personally, I like to point out that I had the privilege of watching both national champion teams play in person during their respective incredible seasons.

Our audience had a great amount of pride for what the state of South Carolina has been able to do.

Our audience had a great amount of pride for what the state of South Carolina has been able to do.

The Graduate – This week I watched an all-time classic movie, “The Graduate.” I don’t usually watch films that are over 50 years old but because it was on Netflix I gave it a try. It was kind of interesting to see that some themes that are scrutinized and fantasized about in our modern era were also prevalent half a century ago as well. Watching “The Graduate” also made me realize that good filmmaking has been around for a long time. Have you seen it before? I recommend it.

I enjoyed watching "The Graduate." Tremendous performance by Dustin Hoffman.

I enjoyed watching “The Graduate.” Tremendous performance by Dustin Hoffman.

Another Comic Hitting Home – In the past, I have written about how spam e-mail has gotten so bad that it no longer irritates me. Rather, it just makes me laugh. The broken English, get-rich-quick electronic mail I receive on a regular basis never ceases to amaze me. I couldn’t help but chuckle at today’s installment of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip.

This Pearls Before Swine comic strip made me laugh.

This Pearls Before Swine comic strip made me laugh.

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I have the privilege of attending a Martin Luther King Jr. event this evening so I got to get going. I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend and I will touch base soon. Don’t Blink.

Thursday Rundown: Bye to a Legend

Let me wish you all a pleasant Thursday evening. Thanks for coming back to Don’t Blink. Here we go with my latest installment of the Thursday Rundown.

Cool Photo Editing App – For those who enjoy enhancing your iphone photos, I want to tell you about a cool new app I have been using. If you have time, download Prisma. It is a photo editing app that offers some pretty wild filters. Think the styles of anime and gothic meet up in a Candy Land dream world. In the photo below, I used the mosaic style to create this photo of Sid and I. Best part of it all is that the app is free.

I like how abstract the photos turn out when using Prisma.

I like how abstract the photos turn out when using Prisma.

Legend – Yesterday, longtime University of Montana women’s basketball coach Robin Selvig announced his retirement after 38 seasons. I had the honor of working in the same athletic department as him for almost five years. However, believe it or not, I won’t remember him the most for the portion of his 865 wins I got to witness. Rather, I will remember him for participating in our Monte videos (go to the 54 second mark, you have to watch!), running a really fun annual poker tournament, and never hesitating to warmly greet me in the hall. I will also never forget a moment in a closed door staff meeting with the university president. It was the morning our athletic director and football coach were unexpectedly let go and as the top official at Montana looked down at his feet, Coach Selvig defended the two men who lost their jobs as well as our department. Talk about leadership. Enjoy retirement, Robin.

Robin Selvig is a legend but also a very good man (photo courtesy of the great Todd Goodrich).

Robin Selvig is a legend but also a very good man (photo courtesy of the great Todd Goodrich).

Good And Plenty – I wore the below shirt for our rehearsal dinner. I wore it again last weekend at church. Before leaving, we said hi to Father LeBlanc. He looked at me and said “Hi Good And Plenty.” I don’t think there was a better way to describe the color scheme of my shirt than that. From here on out, whenever I put it on, I will always think of it as the Good and Plenty shirt.

Father LeBlanc called me "Good and Plenty" when I wore this shirt. He gave it the perfect description.

Father LeBlanc called me “Good and Plenty” when I wore this shirt. He gave it the perfect description.

Central Intelligence – This past Friday, Sidney and I went on a double date to the movies with the in-laws. We watched “Central Intelligence” in a recliner-only theater. The film stars The Rock and Kevin Hart. Sid thought the movie was hilarious and broke out in laughing fits the whole way through. I thought the movie was funny but to a lesser degree. In my opinion, I wish the movie didn’t even have the CIA plot worked in. I wish the film just focused more on the secondary plot of the film of two guys with a complicated history getting in touch just prior to their high school reunion.

From the Olympics Archives – A whole four years ago on this date, I wrote about my excitement as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London opened up. I also spent time describing why the summer games are just so much better than the winter ones. To this day, my opinion has not changed one bit. There is not a question in my mind about which one is superior. To read my long blog post from 2012, click here.

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Life is good. Remember that and have a great weekend. Don’t Blink.