Administering in a Climate of Transition and Church Crisis

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 More »


O Antiphons

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 More »


Find Harmony This Holiday Season

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 More »


Fitzgerald Named Outstanding Philanthropist

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 More »


Father Lombard Celebrates 65 Years of Priestly Ministry

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 More »


The Immaculate Conception

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 More »


Keep Christ at the Center of Your Celebrations

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 More »


Shreveport Martyrs and the 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic

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 More »


St. Joseph Cemetery: Remembering & Revitalizing

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 More »

Fitzgerald Named Outstanding Philanthropist


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


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!

Vocations View: Serving in a Parish

by Jeb Key, Seminarian 

What an incredible year it has been for me. I am now beginning my fourth year as a seminarian for the great Diocese of Shreveport and I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by. It seems like only yesterday that Bishop Michael Duca accepted me as a seminarian. I have learned and grown a great deal in the past three years as your seminarian, and I continue to grow in the love of God each and every day.

Since beginning this journey, I have felt the desire to serve the people of our diocese grow in my heart. I am happy to say that this year, I have been following this desire a little more immediately by serving as a seminarian in the parish of St. Joseph in Shreveport. For this entire school year, I will remain at St. Joseph’s in lieu of returning for theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary.

During this period of time, I will be serving Masses and assisting our priests in providing the Sacraments to the people of Shreveport. I will also be able to take a more active part of the liturgical year of our diocese. My close proximity to St. Joseph School, as well as our other Catholic schools, will allow me to hopefully assist and be a part of these communities in any way that I can.

Most importantly however, this experience allows me to really think and pray more deeply with my vocation. In almost every job, you spend a certain period of time studying and learning under a more experienced person. This apprenticeship for me is teaching me the in’s and out’s of priesthood and parish life. So far I have been working with RCIA, high-school and middle-school youth groups, the parish school of religion, as well as learning from the wonderful staff at St. Joseph’s.

I’ve even spent several class periods with the middle-school religion classes answering questions and sharing my story. These experiences have given me a fresh outlook on what it means to be a part of the parish. The things that I have learned so far are things which you simply cannot learn out of a book in a school; but things which are learned by doing and being with the people of the diocese.

It is lucky that St. Joseph is one of our busiest parishes and I have many opportunities to learn about parish life. I know that my time at St. Joseph will change not only my life, but my future priesthood forever. •

The Immaculate Conception


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.

December Second Collections

by Fr. Rothell Price


Announcement Dates:
November 25 & December 2 

Collection Dates:
December 8 & 9 

Please give to those who have given a lifetime.” Your gift provides vital support to our senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests who have given their all to nourish the faith of Catholics throughout our nation. They have been devoted and vigorous laborers in the Lord’s vineyard alongside diocesan priests and lay leaders.  Your generous and joyful participation in the Retirement Fund for Religious Collection is a fitting expression of our gratitude to the Lord, who called these men and women to their religious vocations. Reach out and touch them in their senior years when their need for assistance is at its height.

While many senior religious, weakened by advanced age and illness need our assistance, others continue to serve in a wide range of volunteer and prayer ministries. You can reward the dedication and hard work they gave in our Catholic Schools, hospitals, numerous social service organizations and advocacy positions. Please give to those who have given a lifetime. Through the Retirement Fund for Religious Collection, you will free them from worry by ensuring that they will have appropriate medications, medical and nursing care, and more. Your gift assures that their religious communities are able to make long-term plans for their quality eldercare. Thank you for your participation in the Retirement Fund for Religious Collection on December 8 and 9. May our Lady of Guadalupe, in her Immaculate Conception, intercede for you as you lovingly give to those who have given a lifetime. •



Announcement Dates:
December 16 & 23

Collection Dates:
December 24 & 25

Love. Hope. Joy. Peace. These are the four joyful virtues of the Advent season leading to the great celebration of the Incarnation of our God at Christmas. The name lodged in our hearts is “Emmanuel,” meaning, “God is with us.” The Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund Collection is a beautiful spiritual opportunity to tangibly shower love, hope, joy and peace upon our infirm priests. What we do for them, we do in honor of Him who called and graced them for His service. Your joyful participation in this collection is a beautiful Christmas present to the holy Christ child, his Church, and his priest brothers and servants.

Our infirm diocesan priests need us. This collection for their physical and spiritual well-being lasts throughout the new year. The Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund collection makes a dignified life possible for these men of God, even within whatever restraints their diminished health imposes on them. Please think of them generously at the Masses on Christmas Eve and Day, December 24 and 25. Make their days merry and bright through your gift to the Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund Collection.

I wish you Advent and Christmas blessings.  •



Keep Christ at the Center of Your Celebrations


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.” •


Faithful Food: It’s Fruitcake Weather

by Kim Long

I don’t know many words, which just by their utterance, can take aim at the “Christmas spirit” quite like the word “fruitcake” does. A word which offers no middle ground, it elicits either love or hate. Over time I admit that I grew from hate and disgust at the unidentifiable and unnaturally colored fruit to a genuine fondness for it.

Today my ingredients have been assembled, my recipe smudged with eggs and batter from other years on the kitchen table, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving I ready the scene: Medieval Christmas music, a pre-heated oven, and a large bowl to hold all the elements for this traditional fare. Once mixed and in the oven, I will have a moment to read a little of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, one of my favorite stories of all time, and so appropriate since “it’s fruitcake weather” here, too.

I decided a better way to introduce this Christmas staple to my own branch of the family was to put only the ingredients we actually liked. The only fruit are candied cherries, red only, and I add chopped pecans. That was my starter recipe. Over time I have added “just a schoonch” of candied peel and pineapple. And today, gentle reader, I confess I follow her recipe to the letter.

A few years ago, I decided to enlarge on tradition by making the Irish Christmas cake. I read recipes like people read novels. It sounded, gulp, a lot like fruitcake. In all my research I came across some recipes for a steamed Christmas pudding. It sounded so Dickensian!  I followed the recipe to the letter and low and behold it worked. If only my grandmother could see it.

This year, however, I have plans to celebrate my southern roots and my mother. I return to her Orange Slice Cake recipe. My mother played the piano for the Christmas cantata at our church, sewed like a professional, spoke southern and she was good at anything she put her hand to, including this cake. It has the texture of fruitcake with a surprise: it is delicious with no provisos or age distinctions – it is just plain good.

So I shall forgo Dickens for family, and candied peel for candy orange slices.

May your Christmas season be merry and bright and may you find time for a cup of coffee or tea and a slice of your favorite Christmas cake!

Mama’s Orange Slice Cake


• 1 cup butter (softened real good)*

•  2 cups granulated sugar

•  4 eggs

•  ½ cup buttermilk  (don’t use sour milk, here splurge on the real thing)

• 1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in the buttermilk

• 3 ½ cups flour, sifted, reserving ½ cup (cake flour is better but if not using it, sift three times)

• 1 box dates (buy the chopped ones, just as good)

• 1 lb. orange candy slices

•  2 cups pecans, chopped (walnuts if you prefer or omit if nuts are disagreeable)

• 1 cup frozen coconut, grated, fully thawed (I prefer the canned)

1 cup of orange juice

• 2 cups confectioner’s sugar


1) Chop the orange slices, dates and pecans. Place in large mixing bowl.

2) Add the ½ cup reserved flour. Toss together until pieces are coated. Add the coconut, toss again to coat. Set aside.

3) In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, until smooth. (Don’t rush this step, Kim).

4) Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated.

5) Mix the baking soda into the buttermilk. Stir until dissolved.

6) Add flour, alternating with milk, adding portion of flour first, and ending with flour. Mix after each addition, just until incorporated together.

7) Use a large spoon to fold the orange pieces mixture into the batter just until combined.

8) Place batter into a lightly greased and floured tube pan. Place in oven preheated 250F degrees, on center rack.

9) Bake from 2 to 2 ½ hours, or until done. Insert wooden toothpick, if it pulls out clean, cake is done.

10) Remove from oven, set on wire cooling rack.

11) Place the orange juice and confectioners’ sugar in a small mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed.

12) Pour the orange juice and sugar mixture over the cake as soon as you remove cake from oven.

13) Let stand in pan overnight then unmold cake.


* The notes in parenthesis are her’s to me!

Do You Allow Incarnation?

by Mike Van Vranken

Unfortunately, December is sometimes the only month we talk about Incarnation. I say unfortunately, because as Christians, we have no visible representation of God without Incarnation. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation” Col 1:15. The author of Colossians is attesting that the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity is the image of the invisible God.

“For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, . . . all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together” Col 1:16-17.  Again, it is very clear these verses are about Christ since the beginning, not just about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

But my purpose with this article is not to determine if Incarnation happened 2,000 years ago at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ become man, or 13.7 billion years ago with the creation of the universe. Instead, I want to propose the image and reality that Incarnation is present today; present in our lives; present when we allow it.

Meister Eckhart, the 14th century Dominican, taught that Incarnation is always continuing as the “Word” of God (another name for the “Son” of God) and is always seeking to be birthed and expressed in creation – especially birthed in you and me. “In one sermon, Eckhart wondered, Why do we pray? Why do we fast? Why do we do all our works? Why are we baptized? Why (most important of all) did God become man? I would answer, in order that God may be born in the soul . . .” Mysticism and Prophecy by Richard Woods, OP.

Can you spend time each day this month reflecting on Incarnation in this sense:  That the Son is waiting to be born, made visible and manifested in you on a daily basis, each and every day? Just as the Word was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem, and was the physical manifestation of God, are you willing to allow the Word to be made flesh in you as the physical manifestation of God every day of your life? Not that you become God, but that you allow Him to be birthed and represented and manifested within you? More from Meister Eckhart on “Christ Continuing to be Incarnated in Us:”

“What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?

And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace?

What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and in my culture?

This, then, is the fullness of time; When the Son of God is begotten in us.”

(Meditations with Meister Eckhart,
Matthew Fox)

My recommendation is to reverently, and with trust in Him, ask God for the grace to open your mind and heart for the desire to give birth to His eternal Son over and over again (a new understanding of being “born again).”

Once you experience that desire, sit with God in the quiet and ask Him to show you ways this Incarnation can take place in you. Maybe it manifests as a newfound love of those who frustrate you. Maybe it is the birth of extravagant forgiveness for someone in your past – maybe even yourself. It could be a new creation of love for refugees or the poor. Perhaps it evolves as compassion for a family member who has disappointed you. And, like many Christmas surprises, it may be some new way that you can be the physical image of God that you have never dreamed of.

This may all be a very new way to view Incarnation for you. Be gentle with yourself and remember, new perspectives take weeks and even months before they become our normal reality. But when you begin to see Incarnation as part of your daily discipleship, the infant Christ within you will leap “for joy,” and Incarnation will be something you proclaim and experience all year long.  •

From the Editor

by Jessica Rinaudo

You may have noticed that the cover of this issue of The Catholic Connection magazine looks a little different this month – it is an illustration of the five priests who died in serving the sick in the Shreveport Yellow Fever epidemic of 1873. These are the same priests who are depicted in the stained glass windows inside Holy Trinity Church in downtown Shreveport.

This cover is the first of many illustrations you will see in The Catholic Connection in the coming months. The Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, most notably Fr. Peter Mangum, Dr. Cheryl White and Ryan Smith, have embarked on a project to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the Shreveport Yellow Fever epidemic, and help make the faithful of our diocese more aware of the importance of these five martyrs, as well as the three Daughters of the Cross who died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1873. As part of their project, they have commissioned comic book artist and illustrator, Deacon Andrew Thomas, to draw a comic book of the events surrounding the lives of these priests in 1873, including their faith, service and deaths. One to two of those pages will be released each month in The Catholic Connection magazine as a serial, telling this important piece of Shreveport Catholic history. This project is sponsored by the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, and we are grateful to be able to share it with all the people of the Diocese of Shreveport.

With that in mind, there are several other articles in this issue that relate to this topic: an interview with the illustrator, Deacon Andrew Thomas; a story on St. Joseph Cemetery, where two of these priests are buried; information on martyrs in the Catholic church; and, of course, the main feature, which details the stories of these priests and how they shared their lives with the faithful of Shreveport in 1873. And don’t forget our Kids’ Connection this month ! There is also information about an upcoming podcast series on these priests that will debut the first weekend in November.

We hope you enjoy this special issue of The Catholic Connection, timed to print in conjunction with All Saints and All Souls days, and that you remember these martyrs in your prayers, especially during the month of November. •

Shreveport Martyrs and the 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic


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.

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.