When I knew that God might be calling me to a vocation as a Permanent Deacon, I had to talk to three people to further discern this calling. I first spoke to my wife, who told me she knew, then I talked with my Pastor, Fr. William MacCandless who was most supportive. Then he told me I better talk to one more person, and it just so happened to be the next person on my list, Deacon Frans Labranche. For me, Deacon Frans played such a pivotal role in these earliest days of discernment, even though he may not have known this. When I came to St. Jane in early 1996 he was the Deacon, and I had seen him in action, heard him preach, a lot, and got to know him quite well. He was a most logical choice to talk with and that conversation proved so valuable. His insight into the inquiry and formation process was spot on and later, his influence would be felt throughout my formation and well into my own diaconate.
Deacon Frans will be retiring from active diaconate service effective tomorrow, January 9, 2017. He will be honored by St. Jane de Chantal next Sunday with a grand reception after the 10 AM Mass in which he will offer a homily. Deacon Frans just celebrated his 35th anniversary of his ordination on December 12, 1981. Deacon Frans was assigned to two parishes originally including St. Jane de Chantal in Abita Springs where he and his wife Del were building their new home. Once completed, Deacon Frans was assigned to St. Jane exclusively but like most Permanent Deacons, he had many other assignments and responsibilities. Early on as a Permanent Deacon he was recruited by the director of the diaconate to teach in the formation program. Deacon Frans developed a class on Catholic Social Teaching(Social Justice) based on the encyclicals of the Pope's starting with Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum. Let's just say that the class was not only informational, it was challenging and unique. The class became known, affectionately as the "bus ride" and the goal was to enjoy(survive) the trip. Incredibly, almost every Permanent Deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans since Deacon Frans own ordination has been taught by the good Deacon. Deacon Frans has also offered his services to the diaconate program in the neighboring diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.
Deacon Frans is also a well known and a respected Spiritual Director in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and has provided spiritual direction to very many people over the past few decades. He has been very active in bringing communion to the sick and homebound and has been involved in countless baptisms, weddings and funerals. I do not know the exact number but I understand that Deacon Frans has baptized several grandchildren and received the vows at their weddings too. Even after a health scare many years ago, Deacon Frans used that experience to start a new ministry in the area for people to discuss their most intimate hopes and concerns about surgery, treatment, recovery, etc.
One of my complete joys of having known Deacon Frans so well over the years has been to see him in action, both in the sanctuary at St. Jane's and in front of aspiring deacons in teaching his class. As mentioned earlier, his class can be tough and often candidates would be frustrated. But attend any deacon gathering once all these students were ordained and it would be like the novice flocking to the presence of the master. Every deacon who has been taught by Deacon Frans has learned that it was always more than book knowledge we took away from his class.
So retirement for Deacon Frans comes tomorrow and his farewell next Sunday. However it should be noted that retirement, in this case, does not mean we won't see Deacon Frans in action. He is still endowed with his faculties so we will still see him at Mass, maybe even invited to preach and now free to offer his assistance where needed and as his schedule permits.
By this column I am happy to be among the first to say, well done Deacon Frans, thank-you for your service, your ministry, your untiring devotion to Holy Mother Church and your yes to God's will for you. Personally, I want to thank you for the roles you have played in my life, including those first hints at a vocation and your help and support throughout inquiry, formation and my own life as a Permanent Deacon. You have been, and will continue to be, a great example of Christ the Servant, who came not to be served, but to serve.
The community of St. Jane de Chantal, St. Michael Mission, the Permanent Diaconate of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, all of those who have been privileged to be spiritually directed by you and so many more are better because of your service. I know they all join me in simply expressing to you our most sincere thanks! Well done, good and faithful servant.
May God continue to shower you with His grace and many blessings! May your retirement be a time of spiritual refreshment and we thank God that you will be only a phone call away.
Deacon Frans Labranche, thank you for everything!!