We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Karina Fabian
When it came to God calling him to the priesthood, Father Marc Lenneman said he was an expert fisherman. “He knew he couldn’t do a hard sell, so he hooked me gently and reeled me in nice and slow.” Father Marc is certainly hooked, and loving every minute of it!
He grew up in Billings, educated in the Catholic school system. After graduating from Billings Central Catholic in 1994, he went to Gonzaga University. After his graduation, he taught religion and coached basketball back at Billings Central Catholic.
He said that although he began to more fully explore his faith while in college, teaching really engaged him in it. “I went to daily Mass, and once you start going to daily Mass – watch out! Your life is going to change. I really studied Scripture and the Catechism. I became more solid in my own understanding and practice of the faith. Most of all, I saw a real need in young people for Christ in their hearts. I saw that the compassion and kindness I can provide as a teacher, as good as that was, wasn’t enough,” he said.
Although he began to feel the pull toward the priesthood, he found himself reluctant to leave behind a life he loved so well. A pilgrimage with some of his students to Rome for World Youth Day 2000 would change that. “I’d been sensing a vocation, but I was really afraid of what that would be like. Afraid I didn’t believe enough and that I would be alone. Both those fears were just powerfully laid to rest when we were in Rome. It was a particular grace for my heart, that pilgrimage.”
He returned to teach another year, sharing his thoughts with his students, which he said sparked a lot of wonderful conversations as they took part in his journey. He also met Bishop Robert C. Morlino (then Bishop of Helena) at a prayer meeting. The bishop asked him “point-blank” if he’d considered the priesthood, and offered his phone number and any assistance he could give in helping him discern. Father Marc said he helped him put aside the last of the fears that had begun to creep back once he returned to teaching and coaching.
As his last year of teaching ended, he broke the news to the principal – who hugged him in reply!
He attended seminary at St. John Vianney in Denver, Colo. True to form, he adored the school and the area – but God had another adventure planned. Bishop Morlino sent him to North American College in Rome for the last of his seminary and for a two-year licentiate in teaching. Naturally, he loved his years at the place where his decision had been first made.
Returning to Montana, he spent a year at Immaculate Conception (Polson) and Sacred Heart (Ronan) with the mission church, St. Joseph (Charlo). Now he serves as director of campus ministry in Carroll College, where he lives in the freshman dorm.
“I love being with young people. They bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It’s really a privilege to have relationships with young people at this stage in their lives, where they are asking the big questions and getting engaged in their faith often for the first time.
“What I found at high school is the same at the college – we need God: his love, his mercy, his strength. That’s the beautiful reality of Christianity – that all those needs are met in Jesus Christ. And the greatest adventure we’ll ever have is following him.
“I look back now, and I smile at those fears I had. Faith comes from God. He’s the one who places it in all of our hearts, so that fear was unfounded. As for being alone – I’m hardly ever alone! I have a wonderful family. The priest enters into an amazing spiritual family – spiritual mothers and fathers, spiritual children, spiritual brothers and sisters. It’s a beautiful reality in my life.”
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 25, No. 3, March 20, 2009.