Sloan’s Baptism

Exactly one week ago, Sloan was baptized. If you read my blog preceding last Sunday, you knew I was greatly anticipating this big day in Sloan’s life. I promised I would shed some light on this happy and holy occasion so today I will say a few words about the baptism.

One week ago today, Sloan was baptized at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Myrtle Beach.

About a month and a half before Sloan was baptized, I went into the parish office of St. Andrew Catholic Church and met with the pastoral associate. He went over the meaning, significance, and logistics of baptism with me. I filled out some paperwork and we set a tentative date for Sloan to be baptized. That date, June 25, 2017, would be finalized once I had Sloan’s Godparents fill out some paperwork as well. The Godmother, Stephanie (Sidney’s sister), and the Godfather, Glen (my brother), wasted no time getting it done. Sidney brought the documents back to the parish office and the date was set!

This is the outside of St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach, the place where Sloan was baptized.

Two days before June 25, we went gown shopping. My mom, Sidney, Glen, Sloan, and myself went to a children’s store in Myrtle Beach and picked out a beautiful gown for our daughter to wear. Obviously I don’t get that excited going out to look at clothes but this was kind of fun.

My mom and Sidney looking at baptism gowns.

On the day of her baptism, Sloan’s ceremony took place at 1 p.m. The same crew that went dress shopping showed up at the church at 12:40 p.m. The celebrant, Deacon Robert Jones, was waiting for us when we walked through the doors. It was this man who would give Sloan the sacrament of baptism. Although I had listened to Deacon Jones at mass numerous times, I had never personally met him. We chatted and then he went to put on his vestment.

Deacon Robert Jones was the man who baptized Sloan.

Shortly thereafter, Steph and her family showed up. They were followed by Sid’s parents. Also attending the ceremony was Sidney’s teaching partner, Melissa, and our friends, Kathy and Tim McCormick. With 1 p.m. approaching, we had a nice little group ready to take part in the holy sacrament.

Deacon Jones took charge. With Sidney, Sloan, and I right next to him at the baptismal font, he spoke to the people gathered in a sort of semi-circle fashion. He welcomed everyone and went over what was about to take place. He used the expertise of our niece and nephew, Russell and Harrison, to explain the healing power of water. He described why it was important for Sloan to be baptized and then made it a point to let all gathered know that everyone was welcome to take photos. He then invited Steph and Glen to join us up front.*

Russell and Harrison attended the baptism and helped answer questions asked by Deacon Jones.

The ceremony then started. Deacon Jones asked Sidney and I the name of our child followed by what we were asking for her. He then asked Steph and Glen if they would be willing to help Sid and I with our duty as Christian parents. The deacon then welcomed Sloan into the church. Then, in a moving display, Deacon Jones welcomed everyone gathered to come up and trace the sign of the cross on Sloan’s forehead. As I held her in my arms, our family and friends came up and blessed Sloan.

Everyone was invited to come up to the baptismal font and trace the Sign of the Cross on Sloan’s forehead.

Deacon Jones then anointed Sloan with the Holy Oil of Catechumens. This is a good time to point out that Sloan, looking as beautiful as an angel, was peaceful the entire ceremony. She was half awake for the duration of it and was nothing but sweet from the start to the finish. I say this because the oil was the first time Sloan could have “objected.” You see, the oil was placed on her breast so Sidney had to pull up her long gown (I was holding Sloan in my arms) so Deacon Jones could apply it. She didn’t make a peep.

Deacon Jones blessing Sloan with the oil.

It was now time for the main event. Deacon Jones asked all of us gathered some basic tenets of the faith. After we accepted, he specifically asked the parents and godparents whether it was our will that Sloan be baptized in the faith of the church. Once we all answered to the affirmative, the water flowed.

The parents and Godparents played a big part in Sloan’s baptism.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Deacon Jones proclaimed as he poured holy water on Sloan’s precious head three different times.

Deacon Robert Jones baptizing Sloan. After an initial wave of shock, Sloan calmed right down.

The first time the water touched Sloan’s head she tensed up right away and let out a little noise. However, right after the initial shock wore off, she was right back to being a peaceful little girl.

Her baptismal candle was lit and a blessing was said. Our small group started to clap and a couple of tears streamed down the cheek of Sloan’s proud daddy. Cleansed from original sin and baptized just the way Jesus commanded, it was a very joyful moment.

Deacon Jones lighting the baptism candle.

With the ceremony concluded, we all took photos. We thanked Deacon Jones for not just doing a good job with the structure of the ceremony itself but for more importantly administering the holy sacrament to Sloan. When the last photo was taken, we exited the church absolutely elated. Our girl is now baptized and salvation has been given to her. Alleluia, Alleluia. Don’t Blink.

* If you are Catholic, you have probably witnessed numerous baptisms during the course of an actual mass. I attended one parish where it seemed like there was a baptism at mass every week! Although this is the preferred method for many of the faith, I had always wanted a more intimate and personal ceremony away from the stresses and unpredictability of a regular service in front of the congregation. As a parishioner of St. Andrew, I never needed to worry about this because it is parish policy that all baptisms occur outside of mass.

My Proud Daddy Moment

Since becoming a dad, I have not had a single instance where I wasn’t proud of Sloan. However, this past weekend I had a defining “Proud Father” moment.

Before I became a dad, I would probably respond to that opening paragraph with something along the lines of “How can you be genuinely proud of a 9-week-old?” I mean it is not like Sloan’s brain is developed enough to ace a test. She can’t even crawl at this point so she can’t accomplish an athletic feat. She isn’t talking yet so she surely can’t blow us away with her singing voice.

But when you become a parent of a newborn, you immediately realize what being proud means. It isn’t about achieving something that society deems as an accomplishment. Just the fact that your baby happened to start as a speck in the womb, grow into an actual infant, and then enter the world is reason enough to be full of pride. However, like I said, Sloan recently provided me with a specific prideful moment that I will always remember.

On Sunday, I took Sloan to church by myself. It was my first real time taking Sloan somewhere without anyone else. I walked into St. Andrew carrying a car seat with a big diaper bag draped over my shoulder. I navigated the crowds and found a seat at the end of a pew. I then crossed my fingers that my daughter would make it through the mass.

This was Sloan and I after mass this past Sunday.

I kept Sloan in her car seat for most of the service. Because she was semi-covered and because she was a perfect angel, fellow parishioners who were fixated in prayer didn’t really notice the baby at the end of the row.

After we recited the Lord’s Prayer and offered the sign of peace, I knew it would be just a couple minutes until I would remove Sloan from her car seat and take her up to the altar with me for Holy Eucharist. I knelt down with the congregation as we recited the important words of Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. At that moment, as the eucharistic ministers approached the altar, I sat back up in my pew. I then slowly and gently took Sloan out of her seat and cradled her in my arms.

The couple behind me immediately cooed and asked her name and age. I answered their questions and they remarked on what a beautiful baby she was. Little did I know that this would be just the tip of the iceberg.

By that time, the communion line had started. Sloan and I were seated in the front half of the church but we were in one of the back rows of the particular section. Not only that, but because of our location, we (well, I) would be receiving the holy sacrament from the priest himself right at the front of the church. Thus, we would be walking past a lot of rows and a bunch of people to get to Father Jose.

I had the pleasure of taking Sloan right down the aisle of St. Andrew Catholic Church and straight up to the front of the altar.

The usher gave our row the signal to ease into line. Sloan and I moved from one end of the row to the other and then took a right to head toward the altar.

At that moment, I swear I knew what Sidney felt like the day she walked down the aisle at our wedding. I kept my eyes either directly on Sloan or straight ahead but I could feel eyeballs looking right at me. Well, let’s be honest, I could feel the eyeballs looking at Sloan. It was such a beautiful feeling, one I couldn’t really even find the words to describe to Sidney when we got home. The whole way down I could sense the gazes and hear the ever so light gasps of the people celebrating mass that day. When I finally reached Father Jose he had his wide grin once again. He gave me my host and then gave Sloan her blessing.

On the way back to our seats I could again feel everyone looking at Sloan. Although I still looked mostly straight ahead, I did shift my eyes back and forth as we walked back. I could see smiles.

Upon returning to my pew I was hit with emotion from not just receiving Jesus’ body but also from the reception that Sloan got. Even though I had absolutely no scientific evidence that people actually were indeed touched by Sloan, the feeling I had in my heart was proof enough. I was one proud daddy.

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With Sloan’s presence now out of the bag (ummm…I mean out of the car seat), parishioner after parishioner came up to me at the end of the mass to say what a precious little girl I had. Although the compliments were so sweet and nice, it still didn’t beat the feeling I had walking down the aisle with her.

When Sidney and I talked when I arrived home, she told me that there is just a sweet spot that people have for a daddy by himself with a little baby. I would say her assessment is right. I know I spent most of this post bragging but it was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. Thank you God for blessing Sloan with her mama’s looks. 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.