“As the official representative of His Holiness Pope Francis in the United States, I commend to you the story of these five priests … This episode in the history of the American Church is a needed message for our Western world in the current age. It highlights a model of sanctity that is attainable for all of the faithful. Most importantly, it points to the salvation of souls as the ultimate horizon for us all … As missionary priests from Brittany who answered a call to leave their homeland and travel to the frontier of Louisiana, they labored with piety and unselfish dedication, inspired by charity, before offering their own lives for the sake of their fellow man during the devastating Yellow Fever Epidemic, which occurred from August to November 1873 in Shreveport… These holy priests live on in the memory of the people not only because of their apostolic work in helping to build the Church in that part of Louisiana, but above all because of their heroic sacrifices.”
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio (October 22, 2020)
“… Herewith I recognize as worthy of special consideration and honor these five priests who made a free and voluntary offer of their lives, inspired and sustained by charity, persevering with this determination unto death in pure and final fulfillment of Christian virtue on God’s earth, to ease the suffering of humanity. They are thus deserving of admiration and imitation and are to be henceforth known as “Servants of God.”
Bishop Francis I. Malone, Bishop of Shreveport (December 8, 2020)
USCCB GIVES UNANIMOUS ASSENT FOR CANONIZATION
Imagine having Five Saints in the Diocese of Shreveport! Well, we are one step closer to that reality. This morning, June 15, 2023, the 200+ bishops of the USCCB, during their plenary meeting in Orlando, Florida, gave their unanimous assent that the Cause for canonization continues for the five Shreveport Servants of God: Fathers Isidore Quémerais, Jean Pierre, and Jean-Marie Biler (from Shreveport), Louis Gergaud (from Monroe), and François Le Vézouët (from Many and Natchitoches). This is such wonderful news which so many have prayed for! This would be a first for North Louisiana!
Bishop Francis Malone, who opened the diocesan phase of the inquiry on December 8, 2020, in a ceremony at Holy Trinity Church, the only Catholic Church in Shreveport in 1873, made the presentation to the gathered United States bishops. This placet (“it is pleasing to us”) vote from the USCCB means that their Cause now goes to the Vatican’s “Dicastery for the Causes of Saints” for a further formal inquiry into their sanctity of life. The Dicastery will submit a recommendation to the pope, by whose authority they would be deemed Venerable, the next step in the path toward sainthood. The third and fourth stages of the canonization process are beatification (Blessed) and canonization (Saint). These final two recognitions require verified miracles.
As mid-19th century missionary priests from Brittany who answered a call to leave their homeland and travel to the frontier of Louisiana, they labored with piety and unselfish dedication, inspired by charity, before offering their own lives for the sake of their fellow man during the devastating Yellow Fever Epidemic… These holy priests live on in the people’s memory not only because of their apostolic work in helping to build the Church in that part of Louisiana but, above all, because of their heroic sacrifices.
As the Monroe pastor Father Gergaud boarded a stagecoach bound for Shreveport, 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.” Father Le Vézouët prepared to leave Natchitoches, and someone called to him, “You are going to your death.” He responded, “I believe it. But it is the shortest and surest path to heaven.” Indeed, the priests’ own prophecies proved true, for both contracted the virus upon arriving in Shreveport.
These Servants of God form part of our nation’s history of holiness. Their story, with transcends history to reveal complex themes of virtue, sacrifice, and response in times of human crisis and suffering, needs to be told in a society that has lost this spiritual fighting spirit and the salvation of souls as the ultimate horizon. Their lives resonate powerfully even beyond the Catholic world. They are also a beautiful, inspirational reminder that, even in dark times and dark places, human beings are spiritual beings who can sacrifice themselves for the common good and to imitate God’s love.
Watch KALB exclusive video with Fr. Peter B. Mangum and others on the topic of Louisiana Servants of God on their path to Sainthood.
“Greater love than this no one has that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
SHREVEPORT MARTYRS TO THEIR CHARITY
In 2023, the city of Shreveport will mark the 150th anniversary of the third-worst epidemic of Yellow Fever in United States history. The human toll was staggering: over one-quarter of the population died from the illness within a matter of weeks. The human suffering wrought in 1873 remains unparalleled to this day. Yet amid this tragedy emerged heroic virtue, exemplified in the lives of five priests who voluntarily and freely offered their life for others and persevered with this determination unto death.
We offer you no salary, no recompense,
no holiday or pension.
But, much hard work, a poor dwelling,
few consolations, many disappointments,
frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death,
and an unknown grave.
Recruiting Prospectus to French seminarians,
Bishop Louis Dubourg of Louisiana and the Two Floridas (c. 1813)
The third-worst epidemic of Yellow Fever that is documented in United States history occurred in Shreveport, Louisiana between late August and mid-November of 1873. The city lost one-fourth of its population (approximately 1,200 deaths) to the epidemic in less than three months. The dramatic effects of this epidemic are apparent in the crisis situation that resulted from the imposition of a federal quarantine, citizen curfews, and a critical lack of supportive medical care and caregivers. Resources to care for the sick and dying were scarce, as trained medical personnel were among the first to die, and many others chose to flee the city. In a community ravaged by disease on so significant a scale, there were many of its citizens who fled for the safety of towns in the surrounding regions. Among those who stayed to care for the victims were two Roman Catholic priests assigned to the city, and one from the neighboring township of Fairfield. Among those who came to Shreveport from the safety of remote unaffected areas were a Roman Catholic priest from Monroe, Louisiana, and one from Natchitoches, Louisiana.
By mid-October, all five priests were dead from the illness, each having made a clear choice of conscience to sacrifice their own lives in the care of others. Read more in the narratives of their lives, all of which have been supported by historical documents and eyewitnesses, attesting to each of their extraordinary willingness to sacrifice to the virtue of charity during a time of great humanitarian need and crisis. Shreveport in 1873 had but a small Catholic minority. The sacrificial response of the five priests was mostly to the Protestant and Jewish populations. The sanctity of their life is profoundly evidenced in the ultimate expression of virtue. Their selfless heroism in the free offering of their lives is fully corroborated by abundant historical context.
October 21, 2020
In a letter of May 19, 2020, your Excellency asked this Congregation of the Causes of the Saints of the Holy See whether, there might be something against the cause of beatification and canonization based on the oblation of life of the servant of God Jon Pierre, Diocese and Priest, who died in the year of our Lord 1873.
The matter being examined, it pleases me to inform your Excellency that, from the part of the Holy See, there are no obstacles such that the cause of beatification and canonization can be carried out based on the oblation of life of the same servant of God, observing the “Norms to be observed and inquiries made by bishops in the Causes of Saints” of February 7, 1983, of this same congregation and the apostolic letter “Maiorem hac dilectionem” motu proprio of the Supreme Pontiff Francis dated July 11, 2017.
Maiorem hac Dilectionem
In 2017 His Holiness Pope Francis, by means of his apostolic letter Maiorem hac Dilectionem, opened the path to sainthood, one that corresponds with the offer of life by five priests who most certainly made a free and voluntary offer of their lives in pure and final fulfillment of Christian virtue on God’s earth, to ease the suffering of humanity.
Maiorem Hac Dilectionem
Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis
on the Offer of Life
July 11, 2017
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
Worthy of special consideration and honour are those Christians who, following more than closely the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their life for others and persevered with this determination unto death.
Certainly the heroic offering of life, inspired and sustained by charity, expresses a true, complete and exemplary imitation of Christ, and thus is deserving of that admiration that the community of faithful customarily reserves to those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised Christian virtues to a heroic degree…
The offer of life is a new cause for the beatification and canonization procedure, distinct from the causes based on martyrdom and on the heroism of virtues.
The offer of life, in order that it be valid and effective for the beatification of a Servant of God, must respond to the following criteria:
a) a free and voluntary offer of life and heroic acceptance propter caritatem of a certain and untimely death;
b) a nexus between the offer of life and premature death;
c) the exercise, at least as ordinarily possible, of Christian virtues before the offer of life and, then, unto death;
d) the existence of a reputation of holiness and of signs, at least after death;
e) the necessity of a miracle for beatification, occurring after the death of the Servant of God and through his or her intercession…”
Link to the entire document.