It was as a young boy at Holy Assumption Parish in West Allis that the seeds of Fr. Leonard Barbian’s vocation began to sprout. Decades later, he has served the Church in a variety of roles — from administration to pastoral outreach to “the ministry of doing lunch.”
— He was ordained in 1965 after attending Saint Francis de Sales Major and Minor Seminaries.
— He has served as associate pastor at St. Monica and St. Gregory the Great parishes, as pastor of St. Mary in Hales Corners and St. William in Waukesha, as the director of the Catholic Family Life Office and as Associate Vicar for Clergy.
— He retired in 2009 and lives at Clement Manor.
CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Tell us a little about your early life. Where are you from?
Well, I’m from God.
That’s the best answer I’ve gotten to that question.
Well, it’s true. But if you mean my family background — I was born and raised in beautiful West Allis. I’ve come a long way in life, from West Allis to Greenfield. I’m the youngest of six boys.
That’s what my mother said.
What was it like growing up with five older brothers?
Being the youngest, I didn’t really know my older brothers growing up because they were in the second World War and the Korean War. When my brother Norbert came home from the service, I cried, and my mom asked me what I was crying about. I said, “There’s a strange man in our house.” It was my brother. But he had left home when I was 1, and I didn’t know anything about him. But we got to be good friends as we all grew up. Four of my brothers have gone home to God, but my one brother left lives here at Clement Manor in the assisted living section. It’s really great to be around for him.
You were ordained during a time of considerable change in the Catholic Church. What was it like to be a young priest in the mid-1960s?
It was a very exciting time for us. We got ordained the year the Vatican Council ended, so the last years of the seminary, we were just imbued with the spirit of Vatican II and hugely in love with St. John XXIII. We were called “a new breed” as I recall. I think we drove our pastors nuts. My first assignment, I was told by the secretary that when the pastor got wind that I was coming to the parish, he got in his car and left for two hours. The thought of having a newly ordained priest around — he thought, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do with this guy?” Well, I lived up to my reputation. I got lots of notes from him.
How do you keep busy during retirement, in addition to being a helpout priest?
I have an active social life and I’ve been blessed with many friends, so I practice the ministry of doing lunch. I know a number of folks here at Clement Manor including several former parishioners — and that’s wonderful. I’m a people person.
You love reading — what authors are your favorites?
My favorite authors are David Baldacci, John Grisham, CJ Fox, Bill Patterson. Novels are just fun to read and it’s relaxing.
Who are your favorite saints or devotions?
Our life as Catholics revolves around the Eucharist, so I have a very strong devotion to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. St. Peter Julian Emard is one of my favorites; he was called “The Priest of the Eucharist” and one of his quotes was “The Eucharist is fuel for the fire of love.” God knows we need a lot more love in the world today.
We’re living in a time when it’s been well-publicized that many Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence. How do you think we can try to emphasize the importance of the Eucharist in our lives?
We celebrate the Eucharist so we don’t forget Christ — “Do this in memory of me.” And I think an awful lot of Catholics who have stopped going to church have forgotten that. That’s where we primarily meet Christ, is in the Eucharist. And they’ve forgotten that in the midst of all the other garbage that goes on in the world. I think people have gotten so busy with all the non-essentials that they forget the essential — Christ in the Eucharist. And, if we are going to be loving people we need the Eucharist; it’s as simple as that.
What was the last movie you watched?
I think it was “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the documentary on “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” I did not know what a remarkable and gifted man Fred Rogers was. He took the most complex topics and made them real and simple for children. It was such a touching movie; I cried at the end thinking of all the good that he did.
If — let’s say when — you are canonized, what will you be the patron saint of?
When I retired, I became schooled in the art of putzing around. In fact, I have a doctorate in putzing around. So I’m going to be the patron saint of people who putz around.