"Anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
St. Matthew 5:28
Bishop Ambrose Leblanc was a prelate and missionary whose truly Franciscan life brings great honor and gives serious inspiration to his beloved Order. Born in 1884, he was the descendant of a deported Acadian family, which later assembled with some fifty others of the exiles, to populate the newly erected parish of Saint Jacques de Montcalm, Quebec. His pious mother, during an epidemic, lost three of her four children in infancy or early childhood, but saved Adolph, as he was then called, by a vow she made to give him to the Franciscans if he survived. Admirable and generous parents, the Leblancs were known for their charity to the poor. They adopted and raised eleven girls, nine of whom became religious. Their unique little boy was already saying Mass at a tender age, and making up little sermons for his sisters.
When this cherished son entered religion in 1906, he chose the Franciscan Order, and five years later was ordained a priest. One of his brothers in religion said of him: He made constant progress in virtue; to the gentleness of his manners and the excellent education he received at home and in the seminary, he added concern for perfection and a lively ardor for intellectual labors. On the day of his ordination in July of 1911, he already had a priestly mentality, with no other desire than to immolate himself with Christ.
He soon was destined for the formation of youth; already he had played an important role in the beginnings of his nine sisters' consecration to God. He was a Supervisor for two years in the Seraphic College of Montreal, then director of the same at Three Rivers; he was Master of Novices in Montreal for seven years, then Definitor or Provincial Counselor until 1927. He became the first Franciscan Provincial when the Province of Saint Joseph was erected in Canada, and remained in charge for six years, then in 1936 left for the missions of Japan, as ecclesiastical Superior. When he came back to Canada after gaining firsthand knowledge of the situation, he recommended the transfer of the prefecture to Tokyo.
He returned to Japan in 1939 as Apostolic Prefect to the Prefecture of Urawa. The Japanese emperor had permitted the Church's establishment on condition the direction soon be confided to native-born Japanese, and in October of 1940 fifteen foreign bishops resigned. The two prefects nonetheless remained in Tokyo. For a year they were not disturbed, but finally all religious were imprisoned in a concentration camp. During this time the Franciscan Superior was occupied like everyone else with garden work, washing floors, and all menial tasks. There were 30 to 40 priests in the camp for two years; a Japanese bishop came to give orders that only one should say Mass each day, the others receive Communion. There were five or six bottles of wine at their disposition during those two years. Bishop Leblanc said to the priests: A priest has the right to say his Mass every day. Each of you, go ahead and say your Mass every day! And never did the wine run out. The prisoners considered this a miracle, however sparing the use of the available wine may have been.
Never did their Superior lose his smile. Never was there a word of discouragement, criticism or impatience! He was always of an even temper and with a sincere smile. One day, back in Canada, he himself would say: My life has been a perpetual enchantment. He would labor in Quebec for the spread of devotion to the Virgin of the Smile, who cured little Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus when her sisters, having lost hope, cried out to their Heavenly Mother for aid. He propagated replicas of the beautiful statue, now known to every Catholic of the Province of Quebec. At the Montreal Chapel Les Buissonnets, named in honor of the home of the Little Flower in Lisieux, the 13th day of every month was consecrated to devotions to the Virgin of the Smile, under the direction of Bishop Leblanc.
Finally there came for the Bishop the most beautiful day of my life. As he had composed a poem hymning Thérèse and her invitation to heroic sacrifice, he also wrote an inspiring page addressed to the future day of his death, in which his ardor and love of God overflowed. Here is an extract of this beautiful text: O blessed day, for me you will have the charm of my First Mass. Until now, as a priest, I have been the sacrificer and Jesus the divine Victim. On the day of my death, I will be the victim, and Jesus the Sacrificer... You will be sweeter than the day of my birth, more joyous than the day of my Baptism, greater than the day of my First Communion, more memorable than the day I received the habit, more solemn than the day of my Profession, more beautiful than the day of my Ordination, more grandiose than that of my First Mass! O blessed Sister Death, do not delay; give me the kiss of departure; lead me to my God, to my Jesus whom I cherish, whom I love... O you who have known me, do not look for me among the dead; I am going to the land of the living! ...Rejoice with me, sing with me the mercies of the Lord, ending in a cry of gratitude the Te Deum which I will intone when I expire!
Bishop Leblanc was in an automobile accident on the evening of February 13, 1959, when his driver lost control of the car on a slippery road. He expired in the ambulance which transported him to the hospital. Those who loved him could not but rejoice with him, on this most beautiful day of his life.
Magnificat magazine, Vol. XIX, Nos. 2-3, February-March 1984 (Editions Magnificat: St. Jovite)