Lifelong educator enjoyed second career as pastor
by Joe Bollig
ATCHISON — For a not very large man, Father Bertrand LeNoue, OSB, cast quite a shadow.
A Catholic college professor for much of his life, Father Bertrand taught his students to think — and his students responded with affection and gratitude.
“Not all of my students were extremely bright,” said Father Bertrand in a feature published in September 2012 in Kansas Monks magazine. “But I always tried to provoke serious thought in all of them.”
“And I told them that I believed in them,” he continued. “I thought they had what it took to respond to the challenges of life with reason and competence.”
Father Bertrand, 86, died peacefully in his room at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison on Nov. 16. A Mass of Christian Burial for Father Bertrand was celebrated at the abbey church on Nov. 22, followed by burial in the abbey cemetery.
Father Bertrand was born on Oct. 18, 1927, in Aurora, the son of Napolean and Bertha (Murphy) LaNoue. His baptismal name was Elric, and he had five siblings: half-brothers Raoul, Bernard and Arcade, and brothers Hilaire and Carol.
“When I was very young, I told people I wanted to be a teacher,” said Father Bertrand in 2012. “But mostly, I was afraid to tell them I wanted to be a monk. I was worried they’d call me a ‘Holier Than Thou.’”
Elric LaNoue entered the novitiate of St. Benedict’s Abbey on July 1, 1945, and received the religious name Bertrand. He professed vows on July 11, 1946.
As Brother Bertrand, he completed his bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and mathematics in May 1949, and professed his solemn vows in July 1949. He then began his studies for the priesthood at the abbey. He was ordained a deacon on Dec. 22, 1951, and was ordained a priest on May 22, 1952.
Father Bertrand was an assistant counselor at St. Benedict’s College for the 1952 to 1953 academic year, and taught math and physics from 1953 to 1955 at Maur Hill Preparatory School in Atchison.
From 1956 through 1958 he was an economics instructor, bookstore/cafeteria manager and counselor at St. Benedict’s College.
Father Bertrand got his start as a professor of economics thanks to poor driving and hungry nuns.
It was a hot day in 1957 when a truck making a food delivery to the abbey had a mishap and ruined the food, according to a story in Kansas Monks. The food was for a gathering of nuns, who consequently underwent an unscheduled and unwanted fast.
Then-Abbot Cuthbert McDonald, knowing of Father Bertrand’s success in the cafeteria, put him in charge of food for the next two gatherings of nuns.
Everything went smoothly, and a delighted abbot offered to grant any request of Father Bertrand.
“I told him I wanted to go to graduate school,” said Father Bertrand. “I told him I wanted to get my Ph.D.”
In 1958, Father Bertrand went to the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an MBA with a concentration in finance in 1959.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in economics from Wharton in 1964 and a doctorate from St. Louis University in 1966.
Father Bertrand then taught economics at St. Benedict’s College, later Benedictine College, from 1966 to 1998.
Father Gerard Senecal, OSB, now associate pastor of St. Benedict’s Church in Atchison, was president of Benedictine College from 1972 to 1987. He said Father Bertrand was conscientious, meticulous in appearance, polite, polished, intelligent and thoughtful.
And he genuinely cared for his students.
“He was always very concerned about advising students,” said Father Gerard. “He bent over backwards to give them advice about where to go with their lives, and he had no fear of contacting their parents directly. And he did that a lot.”
One of his students was Thomas M. Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corp. and former president of the Federal Reserve of Kansas City.
“He was a major influence,” said Hoenig, a Benedictine student from 1964 to 1968. “He taught me both macroeconomics and money and banking, which are the fields I am in today. He was part of a team that prepared me for that and . . . was very helpful in teaching me how to think about economic issues, not just memorize formulas.”
Father Bertrand retired from teaching in 1998 at age 71. Then, Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, asked him to become pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Atchison and St. Patrick Parish in rural Atchison.
Although he had provided some weekend assistance at various parishes for several years, especially St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village, the septuagenarian was a rookie.
“He loved [being a pastor],” said Brother Luke Turner, OSB, who helped care for Father Bertrand at the end of his life. “I know for a fact that the kids just loved him. . . . When he was coming out at the end of Mass, they would just rush him. I think they liked him because he was not a whole lot bigger than they were.”
He stepped down as pastor in 2010 and retired to the abbey, where he continued to celebrate Mass and participate in community life until his unexpected death.
Father Bertrand was preceded in death by his parents and his five brothers. He is survived by nephews, nieces and his brother monks.
Arrangements were by the Arensberg-Pruett Funeral Home. Memorials may be sent to St. Benedict’s Abbey, 1020 N. Second St., Atchison, KS 66002.
Abbot James Albers, OSB, contributed to this article.