The Defending the Faith Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville (my alma mater) is a highlight of the year. Fabulous speakers. Cool people everywhere. Tons of priests available for confession. The Portiuncula Chapel indulgence. What can be better?

Hangin’ with a hermit at Defending the Faith.

Meet Brother Rex, my good friend, and a bona fide, real-deal hermit. Yep, he’s a Franciscan, diocesan hermit, completely legit under canon law yet something of a walking contradiction.

He’s the most gregarious hermit I’ve ever met.

Now, to be fair, I’ve never met another bona fide, real-deal hermit. But even if I had, I doubt they would measure up to Br. Rex’s fun loving, wacky and constant stream of interactions with everyone he met. There were the Franciscan U. students Br. Rex tormented, usually with a straight face but immediately followed with peals of laughter (on both sides). His insistence on addressing me as “Mr. K.” His ball cap, complete with a button: Hermits Unite.

He was getting on my son T.J., working in the conference office this summer, for blowing us off for lunch. “Tell T.J. he’s giving me a complex. I might need to talk to a counselor. Hey, I am a counselor! I can talk to myself!”

So a fantastic weekend was made even more enjoyable due to Br. Rex’s antics. The guy is so funny, and he reminds me of what my buddy Mike Aquilina might look like if he were auditioning to play in ZZ Top.

A fantastic weekend it was, too! Where to even begin? How about meeting Dr. Janet Smith! I’ve been a fan of hers for many years, and was thrilled to meet her in person. We had a great Coming Home Network social on Friday, always a good time. Steve Ray was there, renowned globetrotter, pilgrimage guide, and class act. Scott Hahn was his usual brilliant self – he can’t open his mouth without saying something profound. Patrick Madrid, the guy who gave me my first big break in writing by publishing my conversion story, just keeps getting better, much like the fine wine he enjoys every now and again. Jenn Giroux and Collin Raye were in town, and Jenn’s daughter Andrea Thomas, an extraordinary singer in her own right, sang with Collin at a coffeehouse social on Saturday night.

I didn’t get to say hello, but the other person I always love to see is Kimberly Hahn, who represented the tipping point for my beautiful wife Kathi’s conversion to Catholicism. The two of them spent a couple hours talking through various issues one night at the “Hahn hotel” and presto – by God’s grace, Kathi decided to go through with it. Amazing.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I gave away a couple books too, including one to Congressman (and FUS alum) Jeff Fortenberry. I had an opportunity to meet the Congressman for the first time and was deeply impressed. Here’s a guy who needs our prayers, and is fighting the good fight for our religious freedom. I hope Faith at Work is an encouragement to him – he sure can use it!

It was such a great weekend – I didn’t even mention Archbishop Robert Carlson‘s outstanding homily on Saturday, Ralph Martin‘s terrific talk on Friday evening, or the fact that I met Matt Fradd from Catholic Answers too. Then there were the many good friends and folks I hadn’t seen in some time – media star Mike Hernon (FUS VP for Advancement), Mark Nehrbas, Jack Rook, and CHN folks including Marcus, Jon Marc, Teresa, and Dominic Grodi, Dr. Ken Howell, Mary Clare Piecynski, Bill and Laura Bateson, and… Br. Rex.

So let’s end it there. If you ever get a chance to attend the Defending the Faith conference, I encourage you to jump at it. And in the event you ever get a chance to hang out with a hermit, do it. There’s something to be learned. You see, not only is Br. Rex a gregarious hermit (is that sort of like jumbo shrimp?) but he’s a man of prayer. I think that’s why he’s also a man of great joy.