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Fr Kenneth Leblanc, LC, on Awakening Apostles
Part 11 in a series on life as a priest.

Fr Kenneth Leblanc, LC
Fr Kenneth Leblanc, LC

Part 11 in a series on priestly experiences and insights, published on Thursdays in the Year for Priests.

November 5, 2009. When in the Gospel, Christ refers to a harvest for which laborers are needed, most of us think of the need for more priestly vocations. But according to Fr Kenneth Leblanc, LC, there is another important resource lying dormant in the fields of the world: the laity. 

As a priest who works with lay people of all ages and walks of life, Fr Kenneth is keenly aware of their potential to be effective partners in the apostolate.

“There are so many venues in the world and society that only lay people can reach: the world of the workplace, education, science, media, sports, fashion, the arts, and so on.  It is clear that the laity have the mission to transform the world with the values and message of the Gospel,” he says.

“The lay people are a vast, oftentimes untapped resource in the Church. They are like the sleeping giant that needs to be awakened and formed.”

The road to home

When it comes to awakenings, converts often make the best Catholics. And radical hippie converts?  Perhaps even more so…

Fr Kenneth’s own experience of
Fr Ken at Camp Caribou
Fr Kenneth celebrating a Mass at Camp Caribou, a summer camp for boys.
Christ began when he was six years old. At the time, his parents were long-haired radical hippies who drank, smoked, did drugs, and listened to music by groups like Black Sabbath.

Everything changed on the day his dad, hitchhiking a ride home, was picked up by a hermit (Br Anthony Opisso) from the Cistercian-Trappist monastery near their home.

Br Anthony’s own journey had started in the Philippines, where he was born and raised. After attending English-speaking high school in China, he moved to the States, where he became a successful banker in New York. Later, he decided to go to medical school and became a doctor, but he still wasn’t satisfied with what he was giving in Chicago, so he decided to use his knowledge to help people in Africa, the Dominican Republic, and various countries afflicted by poverty. Several years later, he became seriously ill among the people he was serving.

While in a life-threatening fever, he promised God he would do something great for him if he were cured. He did get better and after much reflection and prayer, decided to dedicate his life to convincing Jewish rabbis that Christ was the Messiah who fulfilled all of the prophecies. In order to fulfill this mission, he would have to study Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Sacred Scripture, ancient rabbinical writings, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. And he would have to pray.

So he became a hermit living in the woods of the Trappist Fathers in Rogersville, New Brunswick. There he lived for 40 years and wrote 5 books.

And on his way back to the hermitage one evening, he picked up a hitchhiking hippie. During that trip, Mr. Leblanc truly came home, and he brought his family with him.

Stars and gold nuggets

Their conversation began with questions about the stars and the solar system. Mr. Leblanc was not too sure about God, but as the hermit began describing the incredible precision involved in the workings of the solar system, something struck a deep chord. How could there not be a God who ordered such an intricate universe?

The hermit’s explanation of the universe and its Maker filled a void that Mr. Leblanc had been trying to fill with drugs and alcohol. It also answered some questions he had been fielding from his little boy.

“I was partly the reason that my dad started searching for answers, because I would ask my parents a lot of deep questions, as kids often do,” admits Fr Kenneth.

That day, Mr. Leblanc returned home and made some radical decisions.

“He came home and decided that we were going to pray the Rosary every day,” says Fr Kenneth.

He also threw the television out, burned his Black Sabbath records, and quit smoking, drinking, and drugs cold turkey.

What did Mrs. Leblanc think of the transformation?  Fr Kenneth says she was delighted.

“My mother was quite happy with the change; with 3 sons in the family, she felt it was high time to get their act together. Having a growing family meant that you had to take life seriously. She quickly became very religious and fervent,” says Fr Kenneth.

The kids were excited by their dad’s decision, and they welcomed it wholeheartedly.

“I quite liked the changes because our family became very united, happy, and close,” says Fr Kenneth. “We really felt God presence in our household and even my friends would notice it.”

Meanwhile, his father continued to visit the hermit to learn more about the Scriptures.  Sometimes he would take his sons with him.

“It was really fascinating to hear this hermit speak of the Bible. I could listen to him for hours… He would say that the Scriptures were full of nuggets of gold, and that if you took time to study and pray over the Scriptures, God would reveal them,” says Fr Kenneth.

The golden nuggets truly did appear—two of them, right in the family. Nourished by Scripture reading and daily family Rosary, both Fr Kenneth and his brother Raoul heard and followed a call to the priesthood. Fr Kenneth was ordained in 2002, and Br Raoul Leblanc, LC, now a transitional deacon, will be ordained this December 12, 2009.

The hermit had already seen the gold glimmering under the surface. When he first met Fr Kenneth, he took one look at him and quietly commented to his father, “There is something about him; he has a big vocation.” His father nodded and kept it quiet until after his son had gone off to the seminary, not wanting to influence his decision.

In fact, Fr Kenneth discovered the Legion of Christ thanks to the hermit’s guidance.

“Br Anthony Opisso and I always had a great friendship. Eventually, he was the one who introduced me to the Legion of Christ and who organized my trip to visit the novitiate in Cheshire,” says Fr Kenneth. He was 17 at the time.

A fire inside

“The more we get closer to Christ, the more we burn to make him known to souls. This makes us look for apostolate.  This was my experience as a 16-year-old. I did not have the concept of apostolate very developed, but I did it because I felt pushed by the Holy Spirit. My enthusiasm for my newfound faith impelled me to want to have others discover it too,” he says.
Now, his role as a priest is to introduce people to Christ, teach them how to pray, and help them on their way toward a personal and growing friendship with the Lord. His goal is to help ignite that fire of faith and love and then give it practical means to grow through the apostolate.

“I think it is important to challenge the laity in taking on roles, giving them a specific mission that they are accountable for. This will develop their sense that they are lay apostles and that God depends on their generosity,” he says.

In some cases, he says, he has had the chance to witness the transformation of fearful, hesitant people into intrepid apostles.

One woman who joined Regnum Christi started out with very low self-esteem. She was quite shy and she needed constant affirmation and encouragement. Over the course of two years, her transformation became evident to those who had known her before. She has since blossomed into a confident, organized, outgoing, happy, and fulfilled woman who is “always giving Christ to others in every way she can.”

Another woman told Fr Kenneth that she used to be so timid that she had a hard time ordering a pizza over the phone. “Now she is an unstoppable apostle and puts me to shame,” he says.

Supersize it

For Fr Kenneth, prayer and apostolate together help people awaken to their true potential.  The road to home doesn’t end with becoming a recipient of the sacraments. It’s a constant journey, and it involves living as an active apostle who works to bring others to God.

Not everyone will do so in the same way; people have different gifts. But the journey should never be a solitary affair. Even a hermit’s vocation, hidden away in the woods, has a deep impact on others. Whether the impact is visible or not, a living faith is inherently contagious.

As Fr Kenneth says, “The more we pass on the faith, the more our own faith grows. Many people’s spiritual life does not prosper precisely because no one has shown them the way to really work for Christ in the apostolate.”

In short, lay people need someone to show them that Christ is real and that he is counting on them to bring others to the faith. This is Fr Kenneth’s work—and to do so, he relies heavily on the help of lay people who are true partners in the apostolate.

“I have seen the difference of working alone and of working with a team of lay apostles,” he says. “Once you experience it, you never want to be a lone ranger or be afraid to let others take on responsibility as you go about your apostolate as a priest,” he says.

Working with lay people has enabled him to turn baby steps into giant steps, and to supersize his impact as a priest.

“I find that working alongside lay apostles multiplies my priesthood by a thousand. It really increases my capacity to reach souls.”

Fr Kenneth Leblanc was born and grew up in Rogersville, New Brunswick, a small town in Eastern Canada. He entered the Legion of Christ at the age of 18, and completed preparation for the priesthood in the United States, Canada and Rome. He was ordained a priest on December 24, 2002 in Rome. He is currently stationed in Cornwall, Ontario and works primarily with Regnum Christi members in Toronto. His younger brother, Raoul, is also a Legionary and will be ordained a priest this coming December 12 in Rome.

To read the other articles in the series, click here.



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