Wednesday, August 22, 2012

West Nile Virus Gives Occasion To Recall Catholic Priests & Sisters Martyrs Of Shreveport Yellow Fever Epidemic

Living in an area that is at risk for now the worst West Nile epidemic ever is not something I like to dwell on. We have had a few cases that been confirmed in the Parish next to me. We have had many more cases confirmed in Parishes right besides that one.

However this does give us pause to imagine how WORSE things were in this area and to celebrate eight Catholic Heroes which included five Priests and three sisters. This happened in Shreveport Louisiana.

About this time of year in 1873 Shreveport Louisiana  was hit by a yellow fever epidemic that alarmed the state. A brief history of that is here  and more is mentioned here.

Part of the heroes of this time were the Catholic Priests and Sisters in Shreveport that served the sick and dying knowing they were likely going to die themselves. In the end seven of them did.

From the Holy Trinity Church Web Site we see :

Father Joseph Gentille record the following in his diary:

Father Pierre was struggling with the plague. The battle had commenced for the leaders. One had fallen. His young Assistant, Father Isidore Queremais, who was laboring under the dreadful disease Consumption was the first to pay his tribute to the epidemic. On the 15th of September he died. Father Pierre followed his assistant on the 16th of September. His death was a public calamity. He was beloved and esteemed by all.

Death was not yet satisfied. Father Biler, Chaplain to the Sisters at St. Vincent's, Fairfield stood alone on the ramparts. Before he fell reinforcements had come from two different priests. Two worthy, holy priests came to Shreveport to share the fate and the crown of those who had already fallen.

Rev. L. Gergaud parish priest of Monroe arrived in time to assist poor Father Biler who on the 26th of September answered the call of the Savior and received the reward of his christian charity and heroism. Father Gergaud ministered to the wants of the plague stricken on by four days. Yellow fever struck him dead on the 1st of October 1873.

Father F. LeVezouet came from Natchitoches in time to assist and console dear Father Gergaud. Out of five one was yet standing animated, worn and he fell, but before falling he had entreated Most Rev. Bishop Perche of N.O. (New Orleans) to send help and assistance. He fought the dreadful disease until he himself could be anointed. Then he breathed his last Oct. 8th, 1973.

Rev. Father Duffo S.J. and Charles Ferec from the Cathedral left N.O. on Friday October 3rd and arrived here Wednesday, 8th. Father Duffo visited Father LeVezouet as he was dying at Dr. Moore's residence. Father Ferec had a mild attack of the yellow fever. He recovered, returned to N.O. at the beginning of December. Father Duffo stayed at Shreveport until the arrival of the new pastor Rev. J. Gentille who was coming from Lake Providence, Carrol (sic) Parish, La. He left Lake Providence November 24th. On his way to his new field of labor he stopped at Natchitoches to see Bishop Martin and received his instructions. On December 8th Father Gentille in company of Dom I. Robot took the Steamer Durfee. They arrived at Shreveport on Wednesday, Dec. 10th. The new Pastor was received by Father Duffo and on the 11th at High Mass he was inaugurated, he entered immediatley into the discharge of his pastoral duties.

A few notes on the above historical sketch.

These five Priests are forever memorialized in the beautiful Stained Glass of the Church. Sadly I am having problems finding that online to post here.

I have read the Monroe Louisiana newspapers of this period and there is an touching  account of Rev. L. Gergaud's flock and non Catholics  seeing him off to Shreveport. He made it quite clear to them he knew he was going to his death and no doubt the people assembled knew it likely too.

Sadly we see this note :

The Ouachita Telegraph

Friday, October 17, 1873

Page 2, Column 3


[From the Daily Times]

SACRILEGIOUS. — The Catholic priest who died on Thursday was robbed of
his watch, cross and other paraphernalia after he was dead. The
suspected persons were arrested, but as nothing could be proven on them
they were set free. Suspicion however was so strong against them that hey were ordered to leave the city instantly.

MERCY !!! In the middle of an yellow fever scourge where you might fall from it and you are stealing off dead priests.

The three sisters that died were of the Order of the Cross and they died while caring for the ill. Those nuns mentioned here were Sr marie Marthe De Nes , Sr Rose of Lima , and Sister Marie Anglea, Nedlec.

The sisters as well as one of the above Priest that was mentioned were of course involved with the local school that had quite a few children of local Protestants in it.  The heroism of these sisters and priests were noted by the majority Protestant population as well and thus going into Shreveport lore. It also played a role that we see often in tragedy of this short of further acceptance of the Catholic faith in a non Catholic areas.

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