Category Archives: Features

Administering in a Climate of Transition and Church Crisis

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by Very Rev. Peter B. Mangum, Diocesan Administrator

I was standing at the corner of Peacock Lane and Southgates in Leicester, UK, having just visited the recently excavated burial site of King Richard III (found underneath a parking lot) when I learned via email on June 26, 2018, of the news of the impending transfer of Bishop Michael Duca to Baton Rouge. (Receiving significant news has a way of imprinting the time and place on one’s consciousness). I knew the 10 priests of the diocese that form our College of Consultors would need to select a diocesan administrator to run the diocese until the arrival of a new bishop, our third for the Diocese of Shreveport. As a matter of fact, from the time of the retirement of Bishop Friend until the announcement of Bishop Duca, we were without a bishop for 17 months. This inter regnum is a time without any major innovations meant to tie up any loose ends and to prepare the diocese for our next Shepherd. Little did I know that that task would soon fall to me.

On my way home, while in the Atlanta airport, Terminal D Gate 26, I learned of the death of Msgr. Carson LaCaze, a second date and place stamped on my memory. A few days later, I preached the funeral homily for the priest who gave me First Holy Communion, who was my pastor at my first priest assignment at St. Mary the Pines Parish, and for whom I served as pastor the last 12 years of his ministry and life.

Only three weeks later we learned that Archbishop McCarrick, already removed from public ministry for credible allegations of sexual abuse, had resigned from the College of Cardinals – the first time such a thing had happened in the Catholic Church since 1927. That was July 27, and I heard the news as I was sitting at my desk in my Cathedral office. The grand jury report from Pennsylvania investigating sexual abuse of minors by priests was made public shortly thereafter, on August 14.

I vividly recall Bishop Duca sitting in the cathedra, installed as the sixth Bishop of Baton Rouge on August 24 at 2:35pm, a significant date as the College of Consultors of Shreveport needed to meet within eight days of that event to elect a diocesan administrator. That same evening, an 11- page bombshell of a letter from the former apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Viganò, was released, alleging the cover-up of the activities of Archbishop McCarrick and ultimately asking for the resignation of Pope Francis.

The fifth of a series of five homilies based on John, chapter 6, on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and explaining parts of the Mass, was quickly shelved for a future date. I urgently needed my parishioners to hear, not from the media, but from me, their pastor, of my disgust related to this horrifying sex abuse crisis the Church was facing, yet again, and on the cover ups by many bishops.

The transfer of our bishop, the loss of my associate and friend, the grand jury report, the news surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, the explosive letter of the former nuncio, and my urgent homily: this was the context in which I was chosen to administer our diocese. It was as if the water had reached boiling point and I was thrown in.

Within the week of my acceptance of this position, the USCCB informed me of two November meetings I needed to calendar: the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore of this year, and the November ad limina meetings in Rome of 2019, in case no new bishop had been appointed by that time. I also learned that as a diocesan administrator, I would have the same vote as any bishop present. I was given a password to access the BishopsOnly website, and that’s when hundreds of emails and letters flooded my inbox and mailbox, mostly to prepare me for the historical, monumental vote to take place at the November gathering of this country’s bishops (and those equivalent to them in law, like diocesan administrators).

As I prepared for the meeting, security concerns began to mount. Three times the number of media outlets were credentialed to cover this momentous meeting; the world would be watching this historical event.

The conversation during my first evening of the meeting centered on one thing only – the vote of the century: on “Standards of Episcopal Conduct” and the proposal to set up a “Special Commission for Review of Complaints Against Bishops.” I participated in a two-and-a-half hour long dinner presentation and discussion for new bishops specifically on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults, given by the professionals of the USCCB and the National Review Board. Others bishops were in their respective committee meetings, many having begun two days earlier, participating in plenty of behind the scenes meetings and activities.

The first day of the General Assembly was set: we would take care of some formalities then enter the Day of Prayer, hearing what would be very moving presentations by two victims of sexual abuse by priests, as well as talks related to the call to bishops to shepherd after the Heart of the Good Shepherd. Everything would culminate with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, with the most providential, unbelievably apropos of readings to be proclaimed worldwide: Titus’ exhortation on a bishop “as God’s steward… blameless, not arrogant, … temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled… [called] to exhort with sound doctrine…”  And Jesus telling His disciples:  “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur…  If your brother sins, rebuke him… And the Apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” Archbishop Hebda was sure to give a great homily.

Chimes rang to get us all to our seats for the prompt beginning of the General Assembly. First, we prayed, commemorating the feast of a bishop martyred for his tirelessly laboring for the unity of the Church, St. Josaphat. Then came the special announcement from the Holy See, delivered by the clearly rattled president of the USCCB: “At the insistence of the Holy See” the American bishops would have to delay the vote on the proposed action items on the agenda for some time, until after the February 2019 Vatican summit of all the presidents of bishops conferences worldwide. This watershed moment in the life of the Church was now delayed, for the apparent fear that this one bishops’ conferences taking such bold and needed steps could affect the whole Church.

I wanted to slam my fist down on the table! Time and place indelibly stamped on my consciousness, yet again. What was up? Does Rome not recognize the urgency of the moment with our people crying out for action? One bishop near me said it felt “like a punch in the gut.” Even the cardinal leading us said he was deeply disappointed by the news he had received the day before.  Another said: “If Francis wanted to unite us, he just found the way to do it” – through common anger and disappointment.

Catholics are angry and losing patience. I know my parishioners are.  In the midst of the meeting, several texted their frustration: “The Holy Father’s record on this was weak in Chile, and then in Honduras, and now in the United States. This is a bit like telling the paramedics to stand aside until a real doctor can arrive at the scene.”

Another simply wrote: “Unforced error” later writing, “The crisis will decimate the Church in the United States for generations to come if the episcopacy does not immediately take decisive action. Even the most faithful Catholics will not support an institution that accommodates and protects sexual predators. I will not.”

A third texted: “The bishops don’t realize how impatient and disgusted guys like me are. It’s a fine line before we are lost.” There was the clear sense from parishioners that nothing meaningful will come from Baltimore or Rome in February. All the bishops were very aware that the world outside was livid!

Over the next two days, bishop after bishop expressed grave concern, on the assembly floor and in interviews outside, desiring to get a strong message to the Vatican of the urgency of reform and needed action regarding Archbishop McCarrick. Everyone knows that the stakes for the February meeting have been raised and must result in universal, global action.

In his closing statement, Cardinal DiNardo said: “Brothers, I opened the meeting expressing some disappointment. I end it with hope… that the Church be purified and that our efforts bear fruit… We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment. We will do so in communion with the Universal Church. Moving forward in concert with the Church around the world will make the Church in the United States stronger, and will make the global Church stronger.  But our hope for true and deep reform ultimately lies in more than excellent systems, as essential as these are. It requires holiness: the deeply held conviction of the truths of the Gospel, and the eager readiness to be transformed by those truths in all aspects of life.

Even in this disappointment and pain, the Church is the only one founded by Jesus Christ, reflecting for us all the glory of Creation, yet all the corruption of the Fall. The light of truth always shines, and no darkness can overcome it. With the long view afforded by history, the Church has deeply experienced that Jesus never claimed the gates of hell would not encroach on the Church; only that they would never prevail against it. I will never – in any way – minimize the present pain and crisis, but this is not new as we know who prowls about this world. Yet in every age, God raises up reformers to challenge evil, and this time we inhabit is no different.

Being in the thick of things these past months has already affected the way I pray. I am grateful for the support I have received from the priests of our diocese as well as many lay people. As one wrote from Monroe, during the final day of the General Assembly: “You did not choose the Church abuse scandal. But you were chosen to face it.” I face it for and with all in our diocese. I minister, not in a Church I would prefer, but in the Church as I find it. I have not lost the sense of outrage at the abuse crisis and cover-ups, nor do I wish that for anyone. We must be about real reform in the Church as we find her in our individual parishes. We must take seriously Christ’s call to holiness, starting with our bishops and priests and indeed everyone! Jesus Christ truly is the Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father, the One sent to save us and give us Himself in the Eucharist and His transforming, purifying grace in and through the Church as He founded.

One of the sexual abuse victims who earlier addressed the conference, summed up her experience saying: “A surprising aspect for me when speaking at the Conference was how utterly pained the bishops are about Church-wide suffering over abuse.”  There is no doubting that.

O Antiphons

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by Kim Long

After 18 years of working for the Church, I have deemed Advent the season of quiet desperation. Our Church tells us to be reflective and prepare, while secular society is already booming about Christmas, the season following Advent.

The O Antiphons are not really well known among many of my Catholic friends and co-workers until I reference the easily recognized Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” With genuine relief they say “Oh right, yes I know that song.” But those prayers hold so much more for us.

It is at this moment in our “brand new year,” that the “O’s” offer us a bridge from the last few days of Advent into the Christmas season – a bridge from the wreath with four candles, all in different heights due to the celebratory “burn” of the previous weeks observance, to the stable. They bring us from promise to fulfillment, leaving behind the frenzied rush, offering instead the opportunity to stay connected to the anticipation of Christ’s birth. And if we “bridge the gap,” we can live out those last few days of Advent with some semblance of peace rather than greeting Christmas Eve and midnight Mass with sheer exhaustion, or even worse, with the silent battle cry, that “it will be over soon and life can get back to normal.”

History: The “Great O’s,” as they are called, have been around since roughly the sixth century. Prayed in the octave of Advent from December 17 though 23, they precede the recitation of the Magnificat during Vespers. By the eighth century they were regularly used in Rome. Although they have been used more in monastic settings, the laity has full access to these prayers, both in private devotion (there is an O Antiphon chaplet) and publicly during Vespers.

Meaning: An antiphon is a verse or psalm to be sung responsively. They have a dual meaning. First that each of these antiphons is a title of the Messiah, and secondly they point us toward Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. They also form a Latin acrostic, “Ero Cras” meaning “tomorrow I will come.” Acrostics are formed by using the first letters in a sequence of phrases.

Practice: What would our Christmas wish list look like if we, as adults, really gave some thought to what we are asking of God? After all, don’t we want what we ask for? Don’t we ask for what we want? In these prayers we are asking for, waiting for, hoping for the Messiah to come. What would that look like? How would He arrive? Would we recognize Him?

O Sapienta, O Wisdom

“Come with outstretched arms and redeem us.”

In the year 2000, I was working in my first church parish. The pastor ordered an exquisite statue of Mary and the child Jesus. The beauty of it overtook me; it was beyond any I had seen in a religious article. I asked him what “version” of Mary this was, and he told me “Seat of Wisdom,” Sedes Sapentiae in Latin.

She lived on my work desk for a time, and when I gazed upon her serene face I would be calmed almost at once. This came in particularly handy when our office handled calls for Christmas baskets. Each time I began to feel frustrated, there she was, seeming to tell me my heart should not be troubled. And miraculously, it wasn’t. According to Webster’s, wisdom is defined as the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships. Each day I am presented with situations, and approached by people who need answers. Be it my own family or my church family, I am so aware that my wisdom isn’t sufficient but God’s is.

O Adonai, O Lord 

“Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us.”

One of the definitions of redeem is “to free from what distresses or harms us.”  In an adult education class given years ago by the Greco Institute, our instructor told us “God is God and I am not and I am glad.” On the surface this sounds like a pithy, almost silly remark, but it is something I have considered since I first heard it. I have a friend who suffers from different levels of anxiety about nearly everything. When she asked me why I thought this was, my answer was rooted in this remark. She was not opposed to belief in God and religious practice, she was simply “unchurched.” I told her that if I had to believe everything, every decision, action, outcome depended only on me and not on God, I would probably be just as anxious as she is. She looked at me quite intently over her coffee cup and said, “You may be right, but how do I begin?” I shared the teacher’s statement with her and that sparked a genuine conversation, a true seeking of information, not just a platitude filled coffee klatch.

O Radix, O Root of Jesse

“Come and save us, and do not delay.”

Root has several definitions, but here is one worth considering: the unseen part which anchors and supports. My rootedness is something I need to reconnect with regularly. A few years ago I just “didn’t feel Catholic,” or in my estimation, not “Catholic enough.” These moments happen to us all. I longed for the feeling I had as a new Catholic where every piece of the Church’s vast history seemed like a newly discovered gemstone that I alone had mined. Every new piece of doctrine seemed like the missing piece, and now I was more complete, whole. None of those feelings were resonating with me. It seemed I had lost touch (temporarily) with my origin. I grudgingly returned to practices I didn’t “feel” like doing, ones I hadn’t thought of in years, in an attempt to reconnect. Slowly I made my way to a new feeling of connection; a path paved with things I knew to be true regardless of the “feeling” involved. In this moment I realized that my faith is not predicated on feelings alone, rather it is rooted in truth and love.

O Clavis of David, O Key of David

“Come and deliver the one from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

A metal instrument by which a bolt is turned is the common definition of the word key. This holds special resonance when I am in a new place, one that I do not really want to be in. There is a situation that I know God has given me, a lesson I now see is intended to unlock a part of me I had no wish to see, much less examine. It is here in the waning darkness that I ask the Messiah, the anointed one, Christ, to thaw my frozen heart, to turn the bolt, for deliverance.

O Oriens, O Rising Dawn

“Come enlighten those who sit in darkness.”

Dawn has a lesser known definition: to begin to appear or develop and to begin to be perceived or understood. The saying “things will seem clearer in the morning,” appears to be rooted here. At the end of a horrible day my one enduring thought surfaces, “I never have to live through this day again.” When I think of my ability to understand our faith and God’s love, I often feel as though I am peeling away the unending layers of an onion. The adage of not being able to stand in the same river twice applies here. We are always changing, growing, even if we go two steps forward and one step back. As a result, we are always peeling away the layers to get to, as Matthew Kelly speaks of, the best version of ourselves. We seek the light.

O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations

“Come and save poor man, whom you fashion out of clay.”

When my sons were young we lived on a farm whose soil I called “hateful.” There was so much clay in the soil that when wet, it seemed to be slimy, and when dry, it cracked open so much that there were places I could set my entire foot inside. It seemed, like humanity, to have a mind of its own. The boys would often come home so covered in this slime that I would make them strip down to their underwear and wash off with a hose before coming in the house to bathe – otherwise the bathtub would not drain. This picture of childhood serves as a great illustration of my own willfulness. While a water hose no longer suffices, this prayer does.

O Emmanuel

“Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

I cannot remember when I first heard the somber refrain of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I do remember where; in the living room of a small house on Ash Street, the street where I grew up. My mother played stacks and stacks of Christmas recordings on her “hi-fi.” They were wonderful, scratchy teachers. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” was one such lesson brought to us by volume two of Firestone Presents, a series of Christmas recordings. The tone of the music, its minor key sound covering me like a blanket, was something my soul seemed to need, to recognize, and it was here that they were imprinted in me. It was here that my gratitude for salvation was born. It is these prayers that help that gratitude grow.

May your Advent and these antiphons lead you into the light of the star, the warmth of the stable, and the miracle of love.

Find Harmony This Holiday Season

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by Kelly Phelan Powell

Since I was a young girl, I’ve dreamt of the perfect family Christmas morning. My handsome husband and I would spring, totally refreshed, from bed when our beautiful children awoke us with shouts of delight at their surprises from Santa Claus. We would sit, all of us together in our matching Land’s End pajamas, and sip cocoa in front of a roaring fire. The children would fully comprehend (because Fantasy Husband and I are model Catholic parents, you see) that Christmas Day is not just about Santa Claus, toys and turkey but instead celebrates the birth of our Savior. Spending the day with our entire combined families, all of whom adore each other and get along perfectly at all times, would give us even more reason to praise God on this beautiful Christmas morning that would never, ever be 78 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

Except for the handsome husband and beautiful children, not one of our eight Christmas mornings together have even remotely resembled my quixotic Dream Christmas. (And I have loved each and every one of them more than I ever thought possible.)

Unrealistic expectations are just one source of stress at the holidays. Emotions run high, and even the smallest slights can become A Very Big Deal Indeed. Old family grudges, politics, religion and even child rearing are landmine conversation topics at big family gatherings. And then, of course, there are far more serious matters between family members that could include physical, psychological or sexual abuse, domestic violence, racism and bigotry. Combined, these factors make holidays into anxiety-ridden nightmares for many people.

“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” says St. Paul in Colossians 3:13, but that can seem impossible when you can’t even have a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner together.

As Catholic Christians, we’re called to build strong families, and there are some things you can do, at the holidays or any time, to help smooth family interactions so that peace and love have a chance to take root and grow. Dr. Brandi Patton, an adult psychiatrist in the public sector/government in Birmingham, AL, shared some advice for less stressful family gatherings.

1. Limit alcohol. 

We may joke about needing a stiff drink when times get tough (or Uncle Lester starts pontificating about politics), but alcohol can make things significantly worse. “Too much alcohol can lead to disinhibition and send conversations in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Patton.

2. Manage expectations and acknowledge anxiety.

“Practice self-care,” said Dr. Patton. “Know your limits – don’t invite 100 people if you only have space for 20 or a budget for 10. Communicate your needs; don’t expect others to read your mind or know [what you need] instinctively. Lower your expectations. Allow yourself to accept the holiday gathering or event as it actually is, not as you want it to be or thought it would or could be. Spend time alone before or after if that’s something you know you need. Try not to over-schedule yourself, and allow for a different definition of success.” In other words, focus on “We ate dinner together and everyone was satisfied,” rather than “We didn’t have a five-star, four-course meal served on China with silver.”

3. Use humor. 

Dr. Patton suggested a joke followed by a quick subject change to something you know the other person likes or is interested in: “I’ve started my New Year’s resolutions early – and one of them is giving up talking about politics! Have you been taking your boat out a lot?”

4. Take a break. 

“Take a bathroom or other break,” said Dr. Patton. “Or say you need to check the turkey. Seriously! This can be really helpful to rearrange the conversational groups and change the mood.”

5. Have a code word. 

“Agree with your significant other or another close family member or friend ahead of time that you will ‘rescue’ each other if you anticipate a particularly problematic issue with a certain relative,” said Dr. Patton. “You serve as each other’s ‘wingman’ who can request assistance in the kitchen or whatever makes sense for the two of you.”

6. Save complex topics for another time.

If a family member brings up a sensitive subject on which you know (or strongly suspect) you fundamentally disagree, Dr. Patton suggested, say something like “I’d really like to talk about that later when we have more time and privacy,” and then move on to another topic. If they press the issue, politely point out that you have feelings as strong as theirs, but out of respect for the holiday (and the host), you’d rather discuss such a serious topic another day.

7. Know your limits.

Nearly everyone knows that family member or friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who spouts off offensively about whatever topic is at hand. Dr. Patton suggested a firm but civil response like, “I don’t insult members of other races/cultures/religions/etc., and I expect the same of others while they’re in my home.” As a last resort, “if the person will not drop the subject or suggests violence, you may need to kindly but firmly ask them to leave,” she said. “Always consider safety first and contact authorities for assistance if a dangerous situation seems to be developing.”

May we all experience peace and joy this holiday season. But if you can’t find peace, at least try to find humor. We may never have the ridiculously perfect holidays of our dreams, but thanks to Jesus, joy is always within reach.

Fitzgerald Named Outstanding Philanthropist

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by Tiffany Olah, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

On November 7, 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals North Louisiana Chapter hosted their 27th Annual National Philanthropy Day awards luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bossier City. Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA) was there to support this year’s recipient for Outstanding Philanthropist: Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is the immediate past president of the CCNLA board of directors and has served on the board since 2013. She has additionally supported our organization with personal donations in the eight years since Catholic Charities began its mission to serve the poor and vulnerable in North Louisiana.

It is because her many years of service to the Shreveport/Bossier community, and especially for her outstanding work at Catholic Charities that CCNLA Executive Director, Meg Goorley, nominated Fitzgerald for this prestigious honor.

“Because of her gentle demeanor, most people don’t know what a powerhouse she is,” Goorley said. “Martha Fitzgerald is the most remarkable, ordinary person I’ve met.”

Such sentiments couldn’t ring more true. Her community service contributions are impressive and extensive. Before her work with CCNLA, Fitzgerald served as a board member, a committee member or held office for LSU Health Sciences Center Foundation-Shreveport, the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences Visiting Committee for Loyola University, the Leyla Beban Young Authors Foundation, Louisiana Press Women, National Federation of Press Women and the Leadership Council for Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce. She currently serves as a board member of Pet Pantry of Northwest Louisiana, a committee member of River Cities Network for business women, and serves as lector and minister of care at the Cathedral of
St. John Berchmans.

She has been a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Network of Shreveport since its founding. Through that program, Fitzgerald participates in the selection of grants for organizations such as Step Forward, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Volunteers for Youth Justice, Caddo Parish Transformation Zone, Caddo Parish School Board, LSU Shreveport Foundation and Biomedical Research Foundation.

Not only has Fitzgerald made a lasting impact on the community within the non-profit sector, but in her professional career as well. Fitzgerald, a former journalist, is an author, editor and independent publisher. She owns Little Dove Press LLC, Martha Fitzgerald Consulting, LLC and manages Holoubek Family, LLC.

She is a former columnist and associate editorial page editor for The Shreveport Times. In fact, she held several editor positions while at The Times and did her share of special assignments for Gannett as well.

A graduate of the 100th class of St. Vincent’s Academy in Shreveport, Fitzgerald earned her Bachelor’s degree from Loyola University, her Master’s degree from Louisiana Tech University and holds a Certificate of Advanced Biblical Studies from the University of Dallas.

Catholic Charities of North Louisiana could not be more proud or honored to have been a part of Fitzgerald’s legacy of service.

Father Lombard Celebrates 65 Years of Priestly Ministry

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by John Mark Willcox

There are few Catholics who live in Shreveport or Bossier City that have not had their lives affected in a positive way by Fr. Richard Lombard, who celebrates his 65th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood on December 20. After he received Holy Orders in 1953, Fr. Lombard was encouraged by the late Bishop Charles P. Greco to minister in the mission field of Louisiana.

Upon his arrival in Alexandria, Fr. Lombard began providing his unique priestly ministry to the Catholics of central Louisiana. His many early assignments included serving as an assistant in three locations until he came to his first pastor’s assignment at St. Edward Church in Tallulah, LA, in 1962. Four years later, Bishop Greco asked that he go to west Shreveport and serve as the founding pastor of a new parish. Thus, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Shreveport was born in August of 1966, and the parishioners there enjoyed 20 years of Fr. Lombard’s pastoral leadership.

Fr. Lombard departed Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in 1986, but not before proudly burning the mortgage of the new church and leaving the parish entirely debt free. He then served short appointments to Shreveport’s St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in 1986, and Christ the King Parish in Bossier City from 1987-90. The remainder of his active ministry has been centered on St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport, where he served as an associate priest before being named as pastor, later guiding St. Joseph during the parish’s 50th anniversary in 1999.

Throughout his priesthood, Fr. Lombard has excelled at instructing and welcoming new Catholics through the RCIA process and helping divorced Catholics through the marriage annulment process. Through his devoted ministry, thousands of new Catholics have entered the Church and hundreds among the faithful are able to lead new lives following their successful annulments. Fr. Lombard has never lost a case he brought before the Marriage Tribunal, a feat of which he is most proud.

Even with his senior priest status, Fr. Lombard continues to offer his ministry to the people of our region without hesitation. He is a priest who built and renovated parishes, guided his people in true stewardship to God’s many blessings, marked and celebrated milestones with his congregations, and spent decades bringing people into and back to Mother Church. He is truly devoted to his vocation and remains a wonderful example of the priesthood to thousands of Catholics in two different dioceses.

God bless you Father Lombard, and thank you for your years of service to the faithful of Louisiana!

The Immaculate Conception

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by Fr. Matthew Long

There are countless images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No Catholic Church, hospital, school or home is complete without at least one. Her role in our redemption and salvation has always been recognized by the faithful. The Blessed Virgin Mary bears many titles, but the title of Immaculate Conception is the one that was bestowed upon her not by man, but by God.

The Immaculate Conception as a Dogma of the Church was not formally pronounced as an infallible teaching by the Pontiff until December 8, 1854. On this date the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus (ID) was issued by Pope Pius IX. A reading of this encyclical indicates that although it was the first formal pronouncement supporting this dogma, the Church’s tradition has always held the Immaculate Conception to be a doctrine of the Church handed down by the Fathers and professed by the faithful in every generation.

The importance of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception can never be underestimated: it is the foundation upon which our belief in the Divinity of Christ  rests. Christ is God and he was with the Father from the beginning. As the Creed states, he is “consubstantial with the Father,” which means that Christ is of the same substance as the Father.

We believe that sin or anything unholy cannot be in God’s presence; God cannot be contained in a sinful place. Therefore, in order for Mary to be the Bearer of the Christ, it was necessary that she not be tainted by any sin. Since, all of humanity bore the taint of Original Sin passed down to us by our first parents, Adam and Eve, “before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for His only-begotten Son a mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world.” (ID).

At her conception in the womb of St. Anne, God endowed “her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of His divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity.” (ID). This free gift of grace and privilege granted by God was only possible because of the merits of Jesus Christ.

Under the title of Immaculate Conception, Mary, our mother, is the patroness of our country and of our diocese.

I once visited the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches, within it lies the remains of the first Bishop of Natchitoches, Augustus Marie Martin. Upon the marble slab marking his tomb is his Episcopal Coat of Arms, and at the center of his shield is the symbol of the Immaculate Conception. As I began to read about the Immaculate Conception, I discovered that this same symbol was on the back of the Miraculous Medal. I then obtained some Miraculous Medals for each of our seminarians and the bishop blessed them. I sent them to each of our seminarians and asked them to pray each morning with me:

“O, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Therefore all of us were united in our prayer to our patroness to foster a culture of vocations and to be faithful sons of the Church.

I encourage all of you to place your own lives under the Immaculate Conception’s patronage and join me in this prayer for the Church in the Diocese of Shreveport and our nation as all of us work together to re-evangelize our world.  •

*This is an edited version of an article that was originally printed in the December 2012 edition of  The Catholic Connection.


Keep Christ at the Center of Your Celebrations

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by Katie Sciba

I sauntered through the Christmas section of a department store last year, beaming because my heart equates decorations and ornaments with bliss and glee. Ribbons, tiny pine trees and clunky wood signs were everywhere donned with reindeer and messages of “Merry & Bright.” Aisle after aisle overflowed, but it was only on a single, small rack where I found decor relevant to Jesus. Christmas has been secularized for years, I know, but more than any other year, I felt deeply bothered. The reality of God coming into the world He created is a more enormous and profound idea than our minds can comprehend. Christmas is the Lord’s birthday, yes, and also the dawn of man’s salvation. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say we should keep Christ in Christmas, and in case you’re pragmatic like me, here’s a list of ways to do it.

1. Learn Salvation History During Advent

A fantastic way to recognize Jesus in the Christmas season is to spend Advent learning salvation history, and it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. Get your tree set up for Advent and decorate it with Jesse Tree ornaments. These special ornaments are hung one day at a time leading up to Christmas, and each has a corresponding scriptural passage about the ancestry of Jesus. Complete kits are available online, or you can sort through your own decorations to find ornaments relevant to this time-honoring tradition.

2. Give Catholic Presents

Maybe our kids are weird, but they get all giddy opening clothes as well as toys Christmas morning. We typically get them fun graphic tees featuring superheroes or fairies; but it occurred to me that our kids would relish showcasing their favorite saints on their clothes; they are, after all, real-life superheroes. Other meaningful Catholic gifts are saint medals, holy water, a blessed crucifix, art for bedrooms or living areas or a rope rosary. Or call your parish and ask for a Mass to be offered for your loved ones – the Mass card will make a perfect stocking stuffer, with out of this world perks!

3. Decorate for Advent

When it comes to big decor trends, the writing’s literally on the wall. We eat up signs with gorgeous lettering, so this year put up “Oh Holy Night” or “Glory to the Newborn King.” Display your nativity scene, heirloom or Fisher Price, and save the baby Jesus for Christmas Day. LSU fans know purple goes with everything, and it’s conveniently the same liturgical color for Advent! Deck your halls with all the purple and gold you have and you’ll see that your parish will feature the very same colors before Christmas. Trade them in for whites, reds and greens just before the Big Day to give yourself and your family a visual hint that the season has changed.

It’s time to actively underscore Christ in Christmas. Prepping our hearts with a Jesse Tree and short Bible readings, adding a touch of faith to our gifts and decorating our homes with words joyfully proclaiming Christ’s coming and birth will stir a change within us. Making exterior room for Jesus in our homes will in turn make interior room for Him within our souls. Our experience of Christmas will be happier than ever when we immerse ourselves in the “Reason for the Season.” •

 

Shreveport Martyrs and the 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic

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by Fr. Peter Mangum, Ryan Smith and Dr. Cheryl White

In the late summer of 1873, Shreveport was besieged by the third worst epidemic of Yellow Fever that is recorded in United States history. On scale, the population loss was unprecedented. From late August until early November, Shreveport lost approximately one-fourth of its population to an illness that no one fully understood, although previous experience had taught that once the first frost arrived, the epidemic would abate. No one had yet made the connection that the virus of Yellow Fever is actually mosquito-borne, and in fact, requires the third vector of the insect to spread in a human population. Because of the unique conditions of a transient commercial population in this river port city, the density of population, and as home to a large mosquito population in the summer months, Shreveport was no stranger to the illness. However, the scale and ferocity of the epidemic of 1873 proved to be one for the history books. This year marks the 145th anniversary of this milestone in Shreveport history, but it marks a significant passage of Catholic history, as well.

Counted among the city’s dead were five Roman Catholic priests and two religious sisters of the Daughters of the Cross, as well as a young novice of that order. The sacrifice of their lives in the service of the city’s sick and dying provides compelling testimony to the Christian virtue of charity, and their willingness to die for others is a model for true selflessness. Their stories, while tragic, are yet inspiring in their witness to the very ideal given us by Christ: “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The religious demographic of Shreveport in 1873 reflected a city that was mostly Protestant, but with a large Jewish population as well. Roman Catholics were but a small minority, and indeed, only three priests were assigned here at the time. Shreveport was a remote location of the Diocese of Natchitoches, founded in 1853. Its first bishop, Auguste Marie Martin, recruited priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese of Rennes in France to come to northern Louisiana. Among those men were five who could not have known at the time that their mission in Louisiana meant going to their deaths.

Fr. Jean Pierre, the founding pastor of Holy Trinity, had been in the area since 1854, when Bishop Martin first assigned him to Holy Apostles parish church in the Bayou Pierre community (Carmel, Louisiana today). Fr. Pierre built the first Catholic parish of Holy Trinity in Shreveport, and by the time of the Yellow Fever outbreak in 1873, he had only recently been joined by an associate pastor, the young 26-year old Fr. Isidore Quemerais. At the Daughters of the Cross convent, located on the site of the old Fairfield Plantation, Fr. Narcisse Le Biler served as chaplain.


With the Yellow Fever virus spreading rapidly, the Daughters of the Cross convent opened its doors as a hospital, as did Holy Trinity and many other churches, and even private homes throughout the city. Those who undertook the care of the sick and dying knew well the risks, and as the epidemic grew in both strength and numbers of lives claimed, it became apparent that 1873 was worse than the region had ever seen. Yet, the care for others did not cease. The sisters of the Daughters of the Cross worked alongside the clergy to minister to both physical and spiritual needs.

On September 15, 1873, Fr. Isidore Quemerais died of the virus. The following day, September 16, Fr. Jean Pierre succumbed as well. Two days later, on September 18, realizing that he was also ill with Yellow Fever, Fr. Le Biler sent a telegram to Fr. Louis Gergaud, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Monroe, asking for help. Fr. Gergaud boarded a stagecoach bound for Shreveport, and his final words to his assistant were, “Write to the bishop and tell him I go to my death. It is my duty, and I must go.” Indeed, Fr. Gergaud’s prophecy proved true, for he contracted the virus almost immediately upon arriving in Shreveport, and died on October 1.

Providentially, Fr. Gergaud arrived in time to provide comfort and final sacraments to Fr. Le Biler, who died on September 26. At the convent hospital, the epidemic had also already claimed the lives of Sister Marie Martha on September 17, and Sister Marie Angela on September 23. Also receiving word about the increasingly desperate situation in Shreveport was Fr. Francois LeVezouet in Natchitoches. The ensuing meeting between Bishop Martin and Fr. LeVezouet is recounted in this excerpt from a forthcoming book by these authors about the Shreveport martyrs:

Upon his return to the Natchitoches Cathedral of St. Francis on Second Street, positioned just one block from a dead arm channel of the Red River, Father LeVezouet tied up his horse at the stable near the rectory, where he was soon met by the grim face of Bishop Auguste Marie Martin.

The Bishop wasted no time in handing LeVezouet the two documents. The parish priest unfolded the letters and examined them. One was a desperate letter scrawled by Mother Mary Hyacinth Le Conniat at the Fairfield convent and girl’s academy on the southern outskirts of Shreveport. The matron was bearing witness to the virtual eradication of the small Catholic community there and she feared Shreveport and its suffering masses would soon be without the sacraments. Both of the priests in the city were deadly sick and the strong probability was arising that they would soon die in tandem. She was concerned also there would be no clergy remaining to carry on the affairs of the mission, to offer the daily Masses, let alone minister to the multitudes of the sick and dying from the sweeping epidemic.

The second note was the even more worrisome letter from Father Le Biler himself, pastor of the convent, who in a desperate voice and shaking hand requested aid at once, as it was feared by all that he would not last much longer.

Father LeVezouet took in the contents of the dispatches and looked up at the bishop to find him searching the priest’s face as he stood before him. A great sadness was perceptible, almost tangible in the air as the moments passed.

“What would you like to do, my son?” Bishop Martin asked, at last breaking the painful silence.

“Monseigneur, if you tell me to go, I go, if you leave it up to me, I stay.”

Bishop Martin paused and thought for a moment trying to understand “the real meaning of his words.” The bishop was not convinced his priest was shirking in fear, but nonetheless did not understand his meaning all at once. He was puzzled, like a disciple on a Galilee hilltop awaiting the parable’s explanation: do you not yet understand? Some more painful moments passed.

Then, Father LeVezouet added, “I want to go so much that, if you left the decision up to me I would believe that in going I was acting according to my own will… I do not want to do anything but the will of God.”

The bishop was leveled by the piety before him. He could hardly speak any further and only told the priest to make ready to go at once in relief of Shreveport.

Fr. LeVezouet arrived in Shreveport just in time to provide viaticum to Fr. Louis Gergaud on October 1. It was not long before Fr. LeVezouet was also ill and knew his own death was near. He died on October 8, but not before two priests from New Orleans arrived. Fr. James Duffo, S.J. and Fr. J. Ferrec both had been exposed to Yellow Fever before, and their arrival in Shreveport was timed, yet again, to assure that the Catholics of the city were never without the sacraments. By that time, a third death had been recorded at the convent. Sister Rose of Lima, who was yet a novice, died October 5.

It is remarkable, and even miraculous, that the grim timeline of 1873 bears out such Providential care at work. Each priest arrived in succession, just in time to care for the one before, with the end of their lives timed so that the terminal phase was not reached until another priest could offer the sacraments. To again draw from the forthcoming book on their lives:

What is certain is that Francios LeVezouet died violently, expelling black vomit throughout his last evening on Earth. Then, through Divine mercy personified, the New Orleans priests arrived by his bedside with what was recorded as only moments to spare before his passing, knowing full well it was not only his earthly cry for help they had answered, but that they were also serving the will of God.

Within whatever parlor, boarding house room, or commercial structure the dying priest lay, Fathers Duffo and Ferrec administered Francios LeVezouet, a child of God and a devoted disciple of Christ, his final sacraments, and with little time to spare as he passed quickly thereafter. Thus the New Orleanian Jesuit and the assistant pastor to the Cathedral of St. Louis were initiated into the confraternity of the charnel house priests, with the dual missions to bring hope and peace to the dying strangers surrounding them and to continue the sacraments without a moment’s secession, to the handful of remaining Catholic faithful in northwestern Louisiana.

As this area commemorates the 145th anniversary of the Yellow Fever epidemic in Shreveport, it provides Catholics with an opportunity to foster a lively devotion to these priests and religious sisters who truly were martyrs to their charity. Their lives, and especially their deaths, provide the strongest possible witness to the fundamental call of our historic Catholic faith, which is to serve others. The population statistics underscore the poignant truth of their ultimate sacrifice: they did not question the creed or faith of the dying they comforted. They did not choose to suffer and die just for Catholics, but for any and all – because they were Catholic. Their ongoing witness to us is resoundingly clear, their sacrifices were not in vain, and may the memory of them be forever woven into the rich tapestry of our local Catholic identity.

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Let us pray through the intercessions of these servants of God for divine favor for those we know who have special need of our prayer, especially the ill, as well as for ourselves and for our city. 

St. Joseph Cemetery: Remembering & Revitalizing

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by Kate Rhea

In November of 1882, less than a decade after arriving in Shreveport, Fr. Joseph Gentille, the second pastor of Holy Trinity Church was contemplating a major decision. North Louisiana’s growing Catholic population was in need of space to bury its dearly departed; a private place for peaceful rest during a turbulent time in history.

His faith and devotion to his fledgling parish led him to use his own savings to establish Shreveport’s first Catholic Cemetery. He named it in honor of his patron saint, and 136 years later, St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery is still operating as a resting place for departed Catholics in the area. Since taking over operations at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in 1996, the Diocese of Shreveport has facilitated the burial of hundreds of Catholics who have the privilege of being interred in a cemetery full of rich and enduring history.

St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery has developed over the decades. Its present state offers nearly 100 sections arranged into plots and crypts. In addition, a Garden Mausoleum and Chapel Mausoleum feature over 200 interred tombs. For older cemeteries, the common question is whether or not expansion is necessary or optional. In the case of St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, there are already nearly 300 plots currently available with a projected additional 200 plots which will become available when needed.

Those interred at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery are in good and honorable company. Many notable persons are buried throughout the cemetery, including local religious leaders, such as two of the beloved priests who died during the Yellow Fever epidemic, 14 Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and Fr. Gentille himself.

Shreveport’s early champions of entrepreneurship and philanthropy are also buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery. One such champion is Justin Vincent Gras who came to Shreveport from France in the late 19th century, ran a successful family grocery, and later became the largest landowner in Caddo Parish by the 1920s. A benefactor of St. Vincent’s Academy and St. Mary School, Gras was a community contributor. He is credited with the phrase, “What’s good for Shreveport is good for me!”

Contributors to academia and the art world are also present at the cemetery, including Lebanese novelist Afifa Karam. Karam was an advocate for Arab Feminism who made her literary debut in 1906 by the age of 23. She was put in charge of an Arabic-language newspaper called Al-Hoda in New York City, and created al-’Ālam al-Jadīd al-Nisā’ī, a monthly periodical for women. She settled with John Karam in Shreveport and is described by biographers as an ardent and involved Catholic.
Veterans of several wars are interred at St. Joseph including Pvt. A.J. Stacey, a Confederate soldier and member of Stewart’s Louisiana State Guard C.S.A. and Henry Lane Mitchell, a veteran of World War II who served as Shreveport’s public works commissioner from 1934 to 1968.

Local football legend David Woodley, who played quarterback for Byrd High School, LSU and professionally for the Miami Dolphins, is buried there also. In 1983, Woodley played in Super Bowl XVII as the youngest starting quarterback in history at that time, solidifying his place in sports history.

Presently over a dozen beloved Catholics and their family members are buried annually at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery and the cost of such a privilege is less prohibitive than one might imagine. With national averages for burial plots in private cemeteries hovering around $1,500, buying a plot at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery costs $750, with cremation burial rights costing considerably less at $375. The range of prices for opening and closing fees associated with burial at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery are between $850 to $1,100, depending on whether the service is held on a weekday, weekend or holiday.

Other items needed for grave side services, such as tents and chairs, are available upon request and for a reasonable fee. The staff at the Diocese of Shreveport are courteous and professional with many years of experience and can answer any questions you have about the process, whether you’re planning for the future or dealing with an unexpected burial need.

In early 2018, the Diocese of Shreveport honored St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery’s past by revitalizing its digital archival database for those interred over the last 100+ years. The complicated yet necessary tasks of mapping and confirming burial sections, researching records and preserving individual documents are currently underway. Cemetery prayer services, cleaning days and genealogical study groups for family members are all a part of the plan for keeping St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in the hearts and minds of Catholics in the diocese.

For more information about burial costs and available spaces, please contact Ed Hydro at ehydro@dioshpt.org, or 318-219-7277. If you would like information pertaining to a loved one interred at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, please contact Slattery Library and Resource Center at 318-219-7264, or e-mail Kate Rhea at krhea@dioshpt.org. •

Q&A with Illustrator Deacon Andrew Thomas

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Beginning with the cover of this issue of The Catholic Connection, we will start printing one to two pages of a graphic novel on the five priests who gave their lives in service to others in the Shreveport Yellow Fever epidemic of 1873. Deacon Andrew Thomas is the artist behind this amazing new series. We chatted with him about his art and faith to give you an idea of the person behind the pen.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – when you became a deacon, where you serve.
I am married to my lovely wife, Patty, and I have four beautiful children: Sara (15), Lisa (11), Monica (10), and Benedict (4). I became a deacon on February 11, 2017, ordained on the Feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes for the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. I am very blessed to be serving at St. Michael Catholic Church in Murrells Inlet, SC, just south of Myrtle Beach.

How did you begin drawing graphic novels?
I began drawing comics at a very young age. I really loved reading comic books when I was a child. There was a group of us in sixth grade that used to collect and draw comics, and I remember distinctly getting in trouble one day for drawing one of my comics during class time. My teacher told me to write on the back of the comic book I was making, “I was drawing this during English class,” and have it signed by my parents!

Did you go to art school?
Yes, I was very fortunate to go to one of the best art colleges in the world, Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Our instructors there pushed us really hard on fundamental drawing skills. We had to study muscular and skeletal anatomy as well, drawing very frequently from live models. Our illustration instructors stressed the importance of sketching out and then choosing the best idea before starting the final composition. Competition was fierce, but the majority of us left the college as highly-skilled illustrators.

How did you grow your talent?
I have been drawing throughout my entire life. I don’t ever remember a period of my life when I was not drawing. The two desires I contemplated with respect to utilizing my art talent were either to draw animated cartoons, or to draw comic books. Animated cartoons are such an involved process and take so many artists to put together even a very short film, so I lost interest in doing so very early on. What I liked about comic books is that one person could do them, so I decided I would illustrate comic books, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity not only to draw captivating scenes, but also to use them to tell a story.

What are some other graphic novels / series you’ve done?
My first graphic novel is a book titled, Borderline. I did most of the drawing of this book when I lived in Puebla, Mexico, early on in my marriage. I think it’s a really unique story. The main character, Bart Selmer, a south Texan, crosses the border to Mexico for the first time, and he is shocked by the level of poverty he sees, but gains a healthier perspective of his neighbors south of the border.

My second graphic novel is a book titled, The Life of St. John Berchmans. I had found a reprint online of an old biography of the saint and had a strong desire to read about him. Once I found out that the miracle that led to his canonization took place only an hour west of Baton Rouge where I had grown up, I felt compelled to tell his story in a graphic novel format.

I’m continuing to work on A History of the Diocese of Charleston for our diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Miscellany, which will culminate in the celebration of the bicentennial year for the diocese on July 11, 2020.

How does your faith play a role in your art?
I decided early on, having left my graphic art career in 2002, upon entering Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, that I would only use my artwork for God’s greater glory. In the seminary, I started an illustrated book of saints, but never finished the book or my seminary formation. However, my marriage benefited tremendously from the seminary formation, and my diaconal ministry benefited from it as well, and I would again illustrate saints, but now in a more compelling graphic novel format. God had a plan! I am very thankful that all of the graphic novel work that I have been blessed to produce has been God-centered.

What is your process for creating a comic book?
I start by researching as much as possible. Not only do I have to understand the time period and environment that I am illustrating, but I also have to be aware of the architecture and fashion of the time. Then, I try to make a number of sketches of the main characters that I will be illustrating. Once I feel comfortable, I jump in page by page and try to bring life to each panel, starting with pencils, then brush and ink, finally adding color and dialogue with the computer.

Many comic illustrators today produce all of their artwork digitally, and they certainly achieve dynamic results. I still prefer to use traditional materials, using pencil and paper, and brush and ink. I try to give my work a classic look throughout which lends itself well to the historical work I’ve produced lately.