Exploring the History of St. Matthew Church

By John Mark Willcox Exiting I-20 in downtown Monroe on Jackson Street you are met with a beautiful sight….the majestic spire of St. Matthew Church which has stood in downtown Monroe for More »

Discerning a Vocation in Elementary and Middle School

by Seminarian Raney Johnson It might seem too early to begin discerning a vocation in elementary and middle school. Yet, whenever I give a talk about vocations to young Catholics, I remind More »

Rite of Candidacy

A Q&A About the Rite of Candidacy with Seminarian Jeb Key Q: What is the Rite of Candidacy?  Candidacy is a rite in the Church that all people aspiring to receive the More »

Fr. Peter B. Mangum Addresses Thoughts on June USCCB Meeting and the Future of the Diocese

By: Fr. Peter B. Mangum   Dear People of Shreveport, I begin this article on Pentecost Sunday, preparing for the gathering of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore. More »

El padre Peter informa sobre la reunión del USCCB en junio y el futuro de la Diócesis

Querida Gente de la Diócesis de Shreveport Comienzo este artículo en Domingo de Pentecostés mientras me preparo para la reunión de la Conferencia Episcopal de los Obispos Católicos de Los Estados Unidos, More »

The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

by Kim Long On the 15th day of August, we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Body and Soul into heaven. The feast, which has a long More »

Holistic Catholic Education

By: Mike Van Vranken Almost forty years ago, I heard someone respond to the question “what do Catholics believe” with the confident answer: “We believe it all!”  Over the years, and often More »

The Life of Sister Maria Smith, D.C.

by Patti Underwood On Holy Thursday, we in the Diocese of Shreveport and beyond lost a rare treasure, Sister Maria Smith, D.C.  Sister Maria was Mother Superior of the Daughters of the More »

Faithful Step Up in Wake of Tornado Devastation

by Walter Johnson On April 25, the city of Ruston found itself reeling from an EF3 tornado that blew into the area in the early hours of Thursday morning. The vicious storm More »

CCNLA and SVdP: Side by Side and Hand in Hand

by Tiffany Olah, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

At first glance, it may appear that there is a duplication of services in what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) does and what Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA) does. To some, it may be confusing that SVdP and CCNLA are two, completely separate unaffiliated organizations within the same Diocese of Shreveport. However, largely because of the efforts of Bonnie Martinez in Shreveport and Jo Ann Crone in Monroe, these two Catholic social service organizations have formed a partnership in which both organizations join forces in their efforts to serve the poor and vulnerable.

According to the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians witness God’s love by embracing all works of charity and justice. The Society collaborates with other people of good will in relieving need and addressing its causes, making no distinction in those served. It is evident then, that the mission and vision of SVdP aligns with CCNLA’s own mission to bring Christ’s message of love to the poor and vulnerable by providing quality social services to families and individuals without discrimination.

As President of the Western District Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which includes Shreveport, Bossier and surrounding areas, Martinez saw the opportunity for the two organizations to work together to mutually benefit and support each other’s programs. She proved to be the resource that bridged the gap of missing contact information for each organization. Through her leadership, conference members have gained an appreciation for the cooperative partnership with CCNLA and understand that the collective efforts of both groups better serve those in the community.

As the relationship has evolved over the years, when SVdP conference members are working with a family that they feel could benefit from the services of CCNLA could help supplement, they will refer the family to CCNLA. Likewise, CCNLA will refer clients to SVdP when we are unable to help with specific needs or when the client may benefit from supplemental aid that SVdP can provide. In this way, both organizations are able to reach more people and affect those lives for the better, doing more in collaboration than what could be accomplished individually.

“When we pool together our resources and efforts, we both get to serve the same individual,” said Martinez. “It’s a win-win situation. St. Vincent de Paul initiates an interpersonal connection through our home visits and with the educational component that Catholic Charities provides, we move closer to that which will result in long-term change for the individual.”

In the same way, Crone, Board President and a founding member of the St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy in Monroe, has been pivotal in establishing a collaborative association with the CCNLA Monroe office as well. The CCNLA Monroe office works closely with the SVdP chapters of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Our Lady of Fatima Parish and St. Lawrence Church.

The special partnership that CCNLA and SVdP have created both in the Shreveport/Bossier and Monroe areas continues to grow stronger and proudly represents the Diocese of Shreveport hand in hand. The number of clients and families that CCNLA and SVdP have worked collectively to assist has been numerous. The relationship that SVdP and CCNLA have established embodies CCNLA’s vision that together SVdP and CCNLA invest in people to alleviate poverty, distress and injustice. •

Pro-Life Oratory Contest Winners Announced


he Shreveport-Bossier Pro-Life Oratory Committee has announced the local winners of its high school oratory contest. Kaiden Odell, a senior at Word of God Academy in Shreveport, won first place with his insightful presentation. He cited the “Unborn Victim of Violence” act, which charges a murderer of a pregnant woman with two counts of murder, one for her and one for her unborn child. Her baby is considered alive and a victim, at whatever stage of its development. Kaiden pointed out the irony that this recognition is unfortunately not provided to babies who are victims of abortion and infanticide, even though the babies are identical in their development. Kaiden was awarded $500 for his speech.

Second place honors were captured by Celeste Lirette, a senior at Loyola College Prep. Her stirring presentation relayed the fact that one in four babies are aborted. That child who never had a chance at life could have been your best friend. Celeste stated that young people need to be bold in proclaiming the truth about the evils of abortion, because “in the end, that aborted baby could have been me or it could have been you.” Celeste was awarded $250 for her presentation.

Zaige Wills, a senior at Byrd High School, won third place by pointing out that everyone deserves the right to life. He challenged the audience to action, saying “We must be the voice for the defenseless babies who are being deprived of this right.” He was awarded $100 for his inspiring speech.

First place winner Kaiden Odell advanced to the State Finals in Baton Rouge on Saturday, May 4 at the Louisiana Knights of Columbus Convention in Baton Rouge. Kaiden won the state competition and will represent Louisiana at the National Pro-Life Oratory contest, which will be held at the National Right to Life Convention in Charleston, SC on July 6.

The local competition was held April 25, at the Catholic Center in Shreveport. Now in its 31st year, the contest challenges students to consider the bioethical issues of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and fetal stem cell research from a pro-life perspective.

The contest is non-denominational and is sponsored locally by the Catholic Diocese of Shreveport. State and National sponsors are the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, the Louisiana Knights of Columbus and the National Right to Life.

For more information, contact Anthony Fabio at awfabio2@hotmail.com. Visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SBProLifeOratoryCommittee/ •

Pope Exhorts Young People to Be Courageous; Encounter Christ on the 56th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations

from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The 56th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations was celebrated by the Catholic Church on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, a day which is also commonly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Inspired by the Lord’s instruction in the Gospels of Matthew 9:38 and Luke 10:2, in which Jesus exhorts the people to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest,” World Day of Prayer for Vocations unites the faithful together in praying for the fostering of all vocations, particularly those of ordained ministry and consecrated life.

In his Message for the 2019 World Day of Vocations, Pope Francis reflected on the reality that all men are made “bearers of a promise” and are asked to have the “courage to take a risk” with Jesus and for Jesus. The Holy Father emphasized that just as the Lord beckoned Simon and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him, he also asks the same of us. He encounters each of us personally and uniquely, and it is in the midst of this encounter with Christ that Pope Francis says we are granted “the promise of a joy capable of bringing fulfillment to our lives.” The Holy Father also urged those discerning to remember that “the Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a “cage” or a burden to be borne. On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking.”

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, stated that it is precisely because of this encounter with Christ that we are given the courage to leave the security of our daily routines and decisively embark on the path the Lord has for us. “To have courage does not mean that we suddenly have no fear or uncertainty,” Cardinal Tobin said. To be courageous means to know with confidence that Jesus is walking with us and in challenging us to take a risk, intends only our greatest joy.”

Closing his Message for the 2019 World Day of Vocations, Pope Francis beseeched young people to realize that following Jesus is always worth the risk. “Do not be deaf to the Lord’s call,” he urged. “If he calls you to follow this path, do not pull your oars into the boat, but trust him. Do not yield to fear, which paralyzes us before the great heights to which the Lord points us. Always remember that to those who leave their nets and boats behind, and follow him, the Lord promises the joy of a new life that can fill our hearts and enliven our journey. •

Your Appeal Helps Provide Priests for Our Future

by John Mark Willcox, Director of Development

Our current seminarians who are actively discerning their vocation can continue to count on your Appeal donation to provide the required tuition, room and board to assist them with their education at both the college and theologate level of seminary training. Our Appeal has a long tradition of caring for the needs of our seminarians. It also supports our diocesan Office of Church Vocations which continually seeks to identify and enlist men and women for a lifetime of religious service to the Church. This year, the largest percentage of our Appeal allocation of funds will be for the support of our seminarians.

This past month we had the opportunity to witness the ordination of Father Kevin Mues. Thanks to your generosity, our Diocesan Stewardship Appeal was able to support Father Kevin by providing the education he needed during his discernment and formation, nurturing his vocation to the priesthood into fruition. In June we will again have the opportunity to witness your Appeal dollars supporting our future priests as four of our seminarians participate in the Rite of Candidacy Mass on June 2 at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans at 11:00 a.m. At that Mass, four young men, Nicholas Duncan, Raney Johnson, Jeb Key and Kelby Tingle, will officially become candidates for the priesthood for the Diocese of Shreveport.

It is important to note that this area of ministry is the real future of the Church in our region, as our diocese will be challenged to supply priests to all 38 of our parishes, missions and chapels. Providing new priests for our diocese is a crucial task for our combined faith community and your donation to this worthy cause helps our Appeal lead the way! •

Kids’ Connection: Sacred Heart of Jesus

Click to download and print this month’s Kids’ Connection.

As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

 from the Vatican Press Office

Today we complete the catechesis on the fifth question of the Lord’s Prayer, focusing on the expression “as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6: 12). We have seen that it is indeed man who is indebted before God: from Him we have received everything, in terms of nature and of grace. Our life was not only wanted, but was beloved by God. Truly there is no space for presumption when we bring our hands together in prayer. There exists no “self-made man” in the Church. We are all indebted to God and towards many people who have given us favorable conditions of life. Our identity is built on the basis of the good we have received. The first is life.

Those who pray learn to say “thank you”. And many times we forget to say “thank you,” we are selfish. Those who pray learn to say “thank you,” and ask God to be benevolent with him and with her. As much as we may strive, there always remains an uncancellable debt to God, that we can never pay back: He loves us infinitely more than we love Him. And then, as much as we may strive to live according to Christian teachings, in our life there will always be something for which we must ask for forgiveness: let us think of the days spent idly, the moments in which rancor has occupied our hearts and so on. These are the experiences, unfortunately not rare, that make us implore: “Lord, Father, forgive us our trespasses.” Let us ask for God’s forgiveness in this way.

Come to think of it, the invocation could also be limited to this first part: it would be good. Instead Jesus reinforces it with a second expression that combines with the first. The vertical relationship of benevolence on the part of God is refracted and required to be translated into a new relationship that we experience with our brothers: a horizontal relationship. The good God invites us all to be good. The two parts of the invocation are tied together with a merciless conjunction: we ask the Lord to forgive our debts, our sins, “as” we forgive our friends, the people who live with us, our neighbors, the people who have not been good to us.

Every Christian knows that there exists for him the forgiveness of sins, this we all know: God forgives everything, and always forgives. When Jesus describes the fact of God to his disciples, he outlines it with expressions of tender mercy. He says that there is more joy in heaven for a sinner who repents, rather than for a crowd of righteous people who are not in need of conversion (see Lk 15: 7-10). Nothing in the Gospels suggests that God does not forgive the sins of those who are well disposed and who ask to be re-embraced.

But God’s grace, so abundant, is always demanding. Those who have received so much must learn to give so much too, and not to hold back only for themselves what they have received. Those who have received so much must learn to give so much.

It is no coincidence that the Gospel of Matthew, immediately after giving the text of the Lord’s Prayer, among the seven expressions used, emphasizes precisely that of fraternal forgiveness: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt 6: 14-15). This is important! I think: sometimes I have heard people say: “I will never forgive that person! I will never forgive what they did to me!” But if you do not forgive, God will not forgive you. You close the door. Let us think, ourselves, whether we are capable of forgiving, or if we do not forgive. A priest, when I was in the other diocese, told me in anguish that he had gone to give the last sacraments to an old woman who was on the point of death. The poor lady could not speak. And the priest said to her: “Madam, do you repent of your sins?” The lady said yes; she could not confess them but she said yes. It was enough. And then again: “Do you forgive others?” And the lady, on her deathbed said: “No.” The priest was distressed. If you do not forgive, God will not forgive you. Let us think, we who are here, whether we forgive or are able to forgive. “Father, I can’t do it, because those people did so many things to me.” But if you cannot do it, ask the Lord to give you the strength to do it: Lord, help me to forgive. Here we find the bond between love for God and love of neighbor. Love calls for love, forgiveness calls for forgiveness. Again in Matthew we find a very intense parable dedicated to fraternal forgiveness (see 18: 21-35). Let us listen to it. …

Jesus inserts the power of forgiveness into human relationships. In life, not everything is resolved with justice. No. Especially where we must put a barrier to evil, someone must love beyond what is necessary, to start again a story of grace. Evil knows its revenge, and if it is not interrupted it risks spreading and suffocating the whole world.

Jesus replaces the law of retaliation – what you did to me, I will do in turn to you – with the law of love: what God has done to me, I will give back to you! Let us think today… if we are able to forgive. And if we do not feel capable, we must ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive, because knowing how to forgive is a grace.

God gives every Christian the grace to write a story of good in the lives of his brothers, especially those who have done something unpleasant and wrong. With a word, a hug, a smile, we can convey to others the most precious thing we have received. What is the precious thing we have received? Forgiveness, which we must be able to give to others. •

One Last Time: Rinaudo Bids Farewell After More Than a Decade as Connection Editor

by Jessica Rinaudo

As I began to work on this, my final issue of The Catholic Connection, I looked back and counted the number of issues I’ve put together over the past 11+ years. This, it turns out, is my 129th issue.

The Catholic Connection has been so much more than just a job to me. As I scanned through the contents of all those back issues, I saw a timeline of my own faith journey and the friendships I’ve formed with all those who have worked diligently with me throughout these many years to produce an ever-evolving Catholic news and evangelization publication for the Diocese of Shreveport.

When I first took over the magazine at the end of 2007, relatively new to the publishing world, I had big ideas. We evolved the magazine to include more feature-based content with established columnists and full color! The page count climbed: first from 16 to 24 pages, and then from 24 pages to 32. With the page increases, we had more opportunities to include Catholic voices from all ages and backgrounds. My editorial board was flush with ideas, and our freshly minted new bishop, Most Reverend Michael Duca – bless him – always trusted me to do what I thought was best for the magazine.

Rinaudo speaks about The Catholic Connection magazine at St. John Berchmans School's Career Day.

The collaboration I’ve had with writers over the years has been invaluable. Each month has been an adventure as I worked closely with Kim and Katie to develop their content, and gleaned so much from Mike’s perspective on Scripture and Church teaching. Working with Bishop Duca was an opportunity to not only get to know and love the “man at the top,” but to hone my own editing skills and confidence.

All of these collaborative efforts began to draw national attention at the Catholic Press Awards each year. We went from a publication that never won an award to winning, at first, one, and then multiple awards each year.

“Why are you leaving?” and “Where are you going?,” you might wonder.

I’m happy to say, despite the sadness that comes from leaving this publication, I am overjoyed to be moving to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to take the helm of their publication, The Catholic Telegraph. The staff of their Archdiocese has opened their arms to me and have granted me the wonderful opportunity to work on a publication that reaches more than 100,000 Catholics. I am so grateful that God put me on this path and continues to show me that this is what He wants for my family and me (despite my own anxieties along the way).

Even with this excitement and joy in front of me, oh how I will miss the wonderful Catholic community in the Diocese of Shreveport! When I told the staff at the Catholic Center about my move, I was met with a mixture of reactions on every end of the spectrum. While Father Price shouted for joy, hugged me and told me how happy he was for me and my family, Father Long repeatedly told me “no,” and then reluctantly said that when I came back, there would always be a place for me.

There are more than 40 people who have some hand, small or large, in bringing The Catholic Connection to fruition each month. And while I can’t list them all here, I want to name a few who are very dear to me.

Rinaudo and Sciba

To my editorial board: thank you for your support and inspiring words throughout the years. Your care and love for the magazine has always encouraged me to push harder and grow more.

To my copyeditors: thank you for dropping everything at deadline time to carefully read through each and every line of text to ensure we are as accurate as we possibly can be before going to press.

To my Spanish translators, Rosalba and Melina: thank you for your patience with last minute articles and fast turn around times on translations.

To Msgr. Earl Provenza: thank you for hiring me and giving a fledgling designer and journalist the chance to do something great.

To Bishop Michael Duca: thank you for giving me the freedom, resources and confidence to grow The Catholic Connection into what it is today. Your mentorship and care for my family and me mean more to me than you will ever know.

To Father Peter Mangum: thank you for seeing something in me and pushing me to grow both at the diocese and at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans. Your vision, kindness, trust and leadership have helped shape my work and inspired me to always aim higher.

To my writers and dear friends, Kim Long, Katie Sciba, Lucy Medvec and Kelly Powell, who I worked with closely every month and who were on the front lines to cheer me into my new job position, I could not have done any of this without you. You are brilliant and inspire me in my faith every single day.

And finally, thank you to every reader who has ever taken the time to contact me through the years – whether upset or thrilled, frustrated or overjoyed, or to share a story idea – it means so much to me that you care about this magazine enough to reach out and to read it every single month.

I ask for your prayers as I move into my new position in Cincinnati, and for your prayers over the new editor and future bishop during this time of transition.

God bless you,
Jessica Rinaudo

Note: By the time this prints, I will no longer be working for the Diocese of Shreveport. Please forward all inquiries related to The Catholic Connection to Blanca Vice, bvice@dioshpt.org. Any personal correspondence can be sent to jessica.booth@gmail.com.

What Are Your God-Given Gifts?

The Beauty of Parish Life

by Kim Long

Recently I began to reflect on what God used to get my attention over 30 years ago when “becoming Catholic” began to go from a wild exotic notion to a path God put me on. The carrot on the end of God’s stick was something called “parish life,” and it intrigued me beyond measure.

The idea of people united under the banner of a common belief and the care bestowed upon one another seemed ideal. I was reading Fr. Andrew Greeley’s novels at the time, and his descriptions of the seamlessness between the parish and the lives of individual families reminded me that God isn’t left behind when we exit the parking lot on Sunday. I wanted that. I searched for it. And like most things we seek, we find… eventually. Thirty years later my view has altered very little, parish life is still a vital part of my Catholic experience.

I recall the first time on my journey toward Catholicism that I experienced the joyfulness of belonging. Picture this scene: a young mother of three on an early spring day, young children in tow, bringing donations of individually wrapped candy for the parish Easter egg hunt, dinner napkins for the St. Joseph Altar, and cakes for bingo – a then time-honored parish fundraiser, to the Parish Hall. The unity, the oneness I felt in that moment was crystallized in one word “Catholic.” Never underestimate the experience of “belonging.”  That feeling has been a great teaching moment for me as I have grown into parish life and shared my own experiences with other new Catholics: some through the RCIA process, others simply new to the area and the parish.

As I began to focus my thoughts in this direction, I found this statement on the USCCB’s Parish Life website: “The parish is where the Church lives.” This is the kernel of truth I found in those novels so many decades ago.

Psalm 133:1: See how good and pleasing it is for brothers to live together as one. 

Already we have an outline. In our “me” world, we are encouraged to want “me” time, encouraged to think solely along the lines of the individual rather than the whole. While my faith encourages me to go broader and think about how my actions affect my family, my parish, my community, parish life gives me a lived example of what life can look like when my focus is more outward than in. When I walk through the doors of the church building on any given Sunday it is good and pleasing to greet and be greeted and to just be with people who I may not see socially, but there in church we are offered another glimpse of the passage from the Our Father: “On earth as it is in heaven.”

1st Peter 2:9:10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light. 


God has called us, claimed us for His own and the parish is where we join together. The parish is home to God’s marvelous light in so many ways. The Easter Vigil experience is one of the most obvious moments where we move together, literally from darkness to light. That experience can certainly be re-lived on a regular basis as we help one another in our small day-to-day actions. Each time we see candles on the altar we are reminded we are not alone, that the light of Christ helps us in the darkness, even in the darkness we pray no one else can see or feel. When someone in your parish reaches out to you or you to them, remember we are each going forward both in and toward the light of Christ.

Philippians 2:4-7: Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. 


On Holy Thursday I experience one of the most profound of these times. In the rubrics, 12 men represent the apostles, but in our parish, it has become a sweet moment of impromptu reconciliation and kinship between parents and children of all ages, between spouses, siblings, neighbors, and strangers. It is one of our most Christ-like moments, one which has been scripted on our hearts and souls, directed by the Holy Spirit. The choir sings, “the Lord Jesus after eating with His friends washed their feet and said to them, do you know what I your Lord have done for you? I have given you example so you also may do.”

Hebrews 10: 24-25: Rouse one another to love and to good works.

On the USCCB website under the heading Parish Life, there are many listings. I looked at “Call to Family, Community, and Participation.” There it says: “the person is not only sacred but social.”

Many parish celebrations have an element of rousing whether it is cooking together, baking thousands of cookies, preparing receptions, celebrating our various and rich cultures, or celebrating our unity in a particular way during that Holy Thursday Mass. It is also seeing families remove tags from the Angel Tree or tie knots on a quilt, offering pra

yers for a person experiencing sickness. We pray together in adoration and the Rosary. We gather for Mass, begin the modern version of the “prayer chain” by texting one another, donate what we can and are called to help our Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The list goes on and it varies from parish to parish as we vary in our own lives. What is unified is that we are living out our Gospel missio

n by being strengthened in participation in the sacraments, and in the sacramental life of the Church. In that strengthening we are taking ourselves and our faith out of the church building, out of the parish hall, out of the PSR classrooms and bringing it to those among us who can no longer be present due to illness, immobility or even memory issues.

Bumps in the Road

Lest I make parish life sound like one big happy road trip, I want to stop here and say it is not always. Exhausted people are asked to go the extra mile; families whose budgets are stretched to the breaking point may feel they have no worth since money is not plentiful; sick people can become invisible; liturgies can seem unfulfilling; homilies and inspirational messages can fall flat – the list goes on. For every good thing about parish life, there is a counterpoint.

Here are the contradictions I have learned living, working, growing and being invested in parish life:

•  Parishes are inclusive; they are exclusive.

•  Parishes are exhausting; they are exhilarating,

•  Parishes are friendly; they are not.

•  Parishes are fulfilling; they are draining.

•  Parishes are where we live out the Christian life in the space between openness to God and our desire to carry out His will.

Finally Ever After

1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

Parish life is the glue which helps hold us all together, the example of the lived reality of “on earth as it is in heaven.”

For all its failures, human error and ego, for all its foibles and warts, I would never want to live without it. Parish life is the life for me, and the parish is where the Church lives!  •

On the Trail of History: France and the Priest-Martyrs of 1873

by Fr. Peter B. Mangum

As many are aware, I have been working on a project over the last two years to explore and raise awareness of the lives of five remarkable priests who gave their lives in the Shreveport Yellow Fever epidemic of 1873. This project has taken many forms, including the writing of a book-length manuscript for publication in the near future, as well as a graphic novel that is being published serially in the pages of The Catholic Connection. In addition, there was a special limited-edition podcast series produced to highlight the lives of these priests, which was released last fall under the title of “No Greater Love: Shreveport 1873.” Collaborating with me on this project have been author W. Ryan Smith and historian Dr. Cheryl White. Our ultimate goal is to develop rich and compelling biographies of these men to bring to the attention of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. These men were exemplary in their devotion to others and were truly “martyrs of their charity,” as all of them willingly died in the service of the sick and dying of Shreveport.

The roll call of names is by now becoming more familiar to us all: Fr. Isidore Quemerais, Fr. Jean Pierre, Fr. Jean Marie Biler, Fr. Louis Gergaud, and Fr. Francois Le Vezouet, all of whom died of Yellow Fever in the short weeks between September 15 and October 8, 1873. The search to know as much as possible about their lives led me to the region of northern France known as Brittany, to picturesque rolling fields and small villages and towns that these men once called home. That is, before they each answered the missionary call of the first Bishop of Natchitoches, Auguste Marie Martin, also a native of St. Malo in Brittany. In the mid-1850s, and again following the close of the First Vatican Council in 1870, Bishop Martin made a trip through Brittany to recruit young missionary priests for an area of Louisiana that was still very much a wilderness. All of them came to the uncertainty of Louisiana, leaving behind family and the only lives they had ever known, which is itself no small measure of sacrifice.

St. Nicholas Church in Heric, France, where Fr. Louis Gergaud was baptized in 1832.

In late February, I traveled to France with a small delegation that included project co-author Dr. Cheryl White, as well as Chantal Dickson (who served as translator) and her son, Michael. The primary purpose was to meet with the bishops of three dioceses – Nantes, Rennes and St. Brieuc to forge closer relationships over our shared priests and common historical link. Dr. White and I also hoped to be able to acquire more primary source information through archival research. An equally important purpose was to have the opportunity to visit the hometowns of these priests, dotted across the Brittany countryside: Heric, Plourivo, Lanloup, Brelidy, and Pleine-Fougeres.

The trip was a resounding success on all accounts! Not only did Bishops Jean-Paul James of Nantes, Alexandre Joly of Rennes, and Denis Moutel of St. Brieuc warmly welcome us, they had already made archival inquiries before we even arrived. The hospitality they extended to us was extraordinary indeed. Additionally, Bishop Moutel called a press conference for our visit, which resulted in coverage by French National Television, Catholic radio and several regional and national newspapers. Bishop Moutel also arranged for us to meet with officials from each of the hometowns, where again, we were warmly welcomed by townspeople eager to know more about their native sons. To be able to visit the churches where the priests were baptized (and in the case of Fr. Gergaud, the Cathedral of Nantes where he was ordained), added broad new dimension to telling their stories.

The baptismal record of Fr. Louis Gergaud held in Blain, France.

In exchange, we have shared with these dioceses of Brittany our graphic novel in a French translation, and are making plans to share much more over the coming months and years leading up to the 150th anniversary in 2023. Little did I know that I would return to the Diocese of Shreveport with much more than the historical record of previously unknown letters and documents, but with new friendships rooted in a story that we now share. I greatly look forward to the continued strengthening of our ties, and being able to honor the five priest-martyrs of 1873 with even greater fervor!  •