Historical and Biographical Narrative
Father Jean Pierre
Martyr to His Charity, 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic of Shreveport, Louisiana
Submitted to Very Rev. Peter B. Mangum, JCL, Diocesan Administrator
Diocese of Shreveport
Request for Formal Inquiry for the Causes of Saints
June 1, 2019
William Ryan Smith, M.A.
Cheryl H White, Ph.D.
Fr. Jean Pierre, Pastor of Holy Trinity in Shreveport, was the second of five priests to perish in the Yellow Fever epidemic. Fr. Pierre was born to Guillaume and Claudine Pierre on September 29, 1831 in Lanloup, Brittany, France, where he was baptized at the local parish church of Lanloup, and studied at the Seminary of St. Brieuc. Bishop Martin recruited him to come to Louisiana in October 1854, and he was ordained a priest in Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 22, 1855. His first assignment was to build a parish church for the community of Bayou Pierre (today Carmel, Louisiana), and he supervised the construction of the Church of the Holy Apostles of St. Peter and St. Paul in 1856, which no longer exists. It was Fr. Pierre’s wish to establish a church in Shreveport, the largest town in the region, and Bishop Martin permitted this. Soon after the completion of Holy Apostles, Fr. Pierre moved to Shreveport.
The Shreveport community extolled Fr. Pierre for his generosity, kindness and intellect; indeed, there are many accounts that attest to his work as a tutor for children of other faith traditions to raise money for the construction of a new church he would name in honor of the Holy Trinity. There are also many accounts of his care for the orphans and the poor, but it is the ultimate sacrifice of his earthly life during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic that is the best documented aspect of his selflessness toward others, personal sanctity and his devotion to God.
With his young associate pastor, Fr. Isidore Quémerais, Fr. Pierre was in the first group of volunteers to organize the medical and supportive care response to the crisis, with the organization of the local chapter of the Howard Association on September 2, before the epidemic had even reached its peak. Besides caring for the immediate needs of the sick of the city, he continued to provide spiritual leadership for the entire community, even making a public appeal through the local newspaper: “The undersigned appeals to all those who believe in the efficacy of prayer, and beseeches them to implore God to have pity on us, and if it is His holy will to deliver us from sickness.” Fr. Pierre also requested help from the Daughters of the Cross at the Fairfield Convent, as well as the Sisters of Charity in Texas, functioning as the major organizer in directing the religious response to the crisis.
The Howard Association assigned Fr. Pierre to work in what was identified as the First Fever Ward, and he worked alongside other volunteers dispensing medicine, offering bedside comfort and even digging graves. He contracted Yellow Fever just two days before the death of Fr. Quémerais, and was therefore unable to provide the final Sacraments to his young associate pastor. In his stead was a third priest from Fairfield who responded to the crisis, Fr. Jean-Marie Biler, chaplain at the convent who gave Extreme Unction to both dying Shreveport priests. Fr. Jean Pierre succumbed to the disease on September 16.
The major eyewitness accounts of his sacrificial service to others are those of Mother Mary Hyacinth Le Conniat of the Daughters of the Cross, Bishop Auguste Martin, and Fr. Joseph Gentille who was Fr. Pierre’s immediate successor as pastor at Holy Trinity. Numerous secondary accounts, including news sources, also attest to the high level of general public esteem for Fr. Pierre. In fact, the city of Shreveport, with a mostly Protestant and Jewish population, named a street in his honor: Pierre Avenue. In the Diocese of St. Brieuc – Treguier, the archival necrology also includes the accounts of his death provided by Bishop Martin and Mother Hyacinth.
From Bishop Martin, who lamented:
“The death of one of the most saintly priests that I have known in my long career; Mr. Pierre, founder of the missions of Bayou Pierre, Minden, and Shreveport … His excellent reputation has reached past the limits of my humble diocese and to keep such a treasure, it was necessary, more than once, to defend him against the truly justified esteem of several of my venerable colleagues, who saw in him a worthy candidate for the episcopate.”
From the Protestant-owned Daily Shreveport Times, September 18, 1873, two days after Fr. Pierre’s death is a lengthy tribute, further attesting to his well-known compassion, piety and charity:
“There has been little time to bewail the dead. Yet, we believe we must pause in the midst of the solemn scenes that surround us that we may snatch a moment from the busy carnival of misery to express the deep regret of this community at the death of the Reverend Father Pierre. This pious priest, kindly and most excellent man, was seized of the fever Saturday evening and died Tuesday evening. From the beginning of the epidemic to the moment he was stricken down, he was constantly engaged in visiting the sick and dying. In these holy ministrations, he knew no sects and no orders of society but was found at the bedside of Jew and Gentile, rich and poor. Those who trusted in the religion of Christ and walked in its light, and those whose souls were darkened by crime, the lady and the courtesan, the good and the bad, when suffering with the scourge and smitten with death, found Father Pierre beside them, smoothing their pillows with a womanly tenderness and consoling them with words of hope. We believe that the voices of this people, regardless of sect or race, will join in one common expression of regret at the loss of this good priest, and that among us it is the universal opinion that the Christian religion has lost a worthy minister, poor humanity a true friend, and Shreveport a valued and useful citizen. When the sad era, in the midst of which we now are, shall have passed away, and we have more leisure to devote to the merits of the dead, and more time to indulge our sympathies and tears, we trust that some worthier pen than our own will do the life of Father Pierre, that high justice it so richly deserves.”
Devotion to Fr. Pierre
Evidence of an immediate and continuous commemoration and devotion to Fr. Pierre is substantiated by many examples found in the historical record and in popular devotional patterns and practices:
- Newspaper reports from more than 50 sources following his death, beginning immediately (September 16, 1873).
- A tribute from the Daily Shreveport Times of September 18, 1873, which calls him “a pious priest,” found “at the bedside of Jew and Gentile.”
- A memorial letter from Bishop Auguste Marie Martin to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Paris, France), November 1873, as referenced above, which indicates that within two months of his death, there was already a popular devotion to Fr. Pierre.
- The report of the New Orleans Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, detailing the death of Fr. Pierre and his sacrifice to the people of Shreveport in the Yellow Fever epidemic, December 21, 1873. The report refers to him as “a devoted servant to the Faith remembered by all.”
- An article honoring Fr. Pierre (and the other Shreveport priests) published by The Scholastic, the official publication of the University of Notre Dame, November 29, 1873. The article refers to him as “a victim of his devotedness to his charity.”
- The diary of Fr. Joseph Gentille, Pastor of Holy Trinity Church, detailing the ceremony and well-attended procession for the exhumation and moving of Fr. Pierre’s body from Holy Trinity to St. Joseph’s Cemetery, March 1884. The ongoing care of his burial site has been a practice of piety for many of the local devoted faithful.
- The report of the Shreveport Times detailing the ceremony and procession for the above exhumation and removing of Fr. Pierre’s body, including the dedication of the Calvary Mound in honor of his sacrifice, March 23, 1884.
- The subsequent decision of the City of Shreveport to name a street in his honor (Pierre Avenue).
- The report of the Shreveport Times detailing the 25th anniversary memorial Mass for Fr. Pierre and other priests, held at Holy Trinity Church, December 6, 1898. Twenty-five years later, the memory of his sacrifice was marked by the faithful Catholics of the city.
- The installation of commemorative stained glass windows in 1946 at Holy Trinity Church in Shreveport honoring the memory of Fr. Jean Pierre speaks directly to a cult of local devotion that had been nurtured for 70 years.
- Painting of Fr. Pierre’s likeness in the ceiling fresco of Holy Trinity Church in Shreveport, completed at approximately the same time as the above.
- The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Yellow Fever epidemic as chronicled in the Shreveport Times, October 22, 1973. In this news article, Fr. Pierre and the other priests are extolled for their virtue and sacrifice for the city, evidence of an ongoing awareness for him in the historical identity of the city.
- The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Yellow Fever epidemic and the death of Fr. Pierre and other priests, observed in a memorial Mass, Holy Trinity Church, October 1973. One hundred years after the epidemic, the faithful of Shreveport marked the anniversary of Fr. Pierre’s death in great numbers.
- Shape of Shreveport Television Documentary Series, “Yellow Jack Comes to Shreveport,” chronicling the death and sacrifice of Fr. Pierre and other priests during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic, January 2015. This included the acknowledgement of patterns of devotion for Fr. Pierre and the other priests that continue to be obvious in the city.
- Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Radio Documentary, Oakland Cemetery. This documentary covered the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic, including details of the death and sacrifice of Fr. Pierre and other priests, 2015, noting the devotion to him that continues to this day.
- Use of Fr. Pierre’s image on a Vocations poster for the Diocese of Shreveport as an example of exemplary service and sacrifice, 2017. Many seminarians have cited Fr. Pierre’s example as having profound personal influence.
- Prayer cards printed by the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport, Louisiana to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the death of Fr. Pierre and other priests, 2018.
- Diocese of Shreveport research delegation to Brittany, France, Diocese of St. Brieuc, reception by clergy there and their interest in following a historical investigation for the purpose of opening a cause, February 2019.
- Reception honoring Fr. Pierre in his hometown of Lanloup, France, during the above referenced delegation, February 2019.
- Podcast mini-series for national audience, No Greater Love: Shreveport 1873, chronicling the life of Fr. Pierre and other priests of the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic. This project also includes a graphic novel in serial production and a book-length manuscript.
- There has been great interest and support expressed in solidarity and unanimity from the Diocese of Shreveport, as well as from the bishops of Louisiana, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, himself a native of the same region of France.
- Local patterns of devotion to Fr. Jean Pierre evident in the community today include his ongoing inspiration for seminarians, pilgrimages to his graveside and its perpetual care with evidence of devotion obvious in flowers and items left in remembrance, pilgrimages to Holy Trinity Church and his effigy in stained glass, circulation of prayer card images of him and prayers for his intercession, as well as the current community initiative of Carmel, Louisiana, to permanently mark the site of his first parish in Louisiana, Church of the Holy Apostles.
Primary Source Documents
Daughters of the Cross. Victims of 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic, Shreveport, Louisiana: Archives of the Diocese of Shreveport.
Diocese of Alexandria, Archives. Alexandria, Louisiana.
Diocese of Natchitoches Collection. South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Archives.
Diocese of St. Brieuc – Treguier. St. Brieuc, France: Archives.
Gentille, Fr. Joseph. Personal Diary. Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Shreveport, Louisiana.
Hall, Judge Henry Gerard. Personal Diary. Shreveport, Louisiana: Noel Archives and Special Collections, Louisiana State University at Shreveport.
Howard Association, Report of the Committee on the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1873 at Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport, Louisiana: 1874.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Parish Records, 1873 – Present. Shreveport, Louisiana.
Le Conniat, Mother Mary Hyacinth. Letters. Shreveport, Louisiana: Noel Archives and Special Collections, Louisiana State University at Shreveport.
Martin, Bishop Auguste Marie. Journal of First Vatican Council. New Orleans, Louisiana: Archdiocese of New Orleans Archives.
Martin, Bishop Auguste Marie. Letter to the President and the Members of the Council of the Propagation of the Faith, Paris, France. Alexandria, Louisiana: Diocese of Alexandria Archives.
Martin, Bishop Auguste Marie. Letters. South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Archives.
“Report of the Committee on the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1873 of Shreveport, Louisiana.” The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, Volume 66, Issue 134, 1874.
Secondary Sources and News Reports
American Catholic Historical Society. “Southern Historical Notes,” The American Catholic Historical Researches, New Series, Volume 2, No. 2 (April 1906).
Baudier, Roger. North Louisiana History. New Orleans, Louisiana: Archdiocese of New Orleans Archives.
Biever, Albert H. The Jesuits in New Orleans and the Mississippi Valley: Jubilee Memorial. New Orleans, Louisiana: Society of Jesus, 1924.
Brock, Eric J. Shreveport Chronicles: Profiles from Louisiana’s Port City. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2009.
Brock, Eric J. Shreveport. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Press, 1998.
Carrigan, JoAnn. The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905.
Lafayette, Louisiana: University of Southwestern Louisiana Press: 1994.
Catholic Connection, Publication of the Diocese of Shreveport, multiple dates.
Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. (multiple dates)
Daily Shreveport Times. Shreveport, Louisiana. (multiple dates)
Elford, Madeline. A Brief History of St. Vincent’s Academy and Daughters of the Cross. (Unpublished manuscript) Shreveport, Louisiana: Diocese of Shreveport Archives.
Gentille, Fr. Joseph. Personal Diary (unpublished). Shreveport, Louisiana: Diocese of Shreveport Archives.
Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, September 17, 1873.
Hildreth, Peggy Bassett. “Early Red Cross: The Howard Association of New Orleans, 1837 1878.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 1979).
Holy Trinity Catholic Church. History. Shreveport, Louisiana: webpage.
Jefferson Democrat. Jefferson, Texas.
Johnson, Margaret. “The Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of Shreveport in 1873,” North Louisiana Historical Journal, Volume 30, Number 4.
Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Radio Documentary, 2015.
McCants, Sr. Dorothea Olga. They Came to Louisiana: Letters of a Catholic Mission,
1854-1882. Daughters of the Cross: 1983.
McLure, Mary Lilla and Jolley Edward Howe. History of Shreveport and Shreveport Builders. Shreveport, Louisiana: Journal Printing Company, 1937.
Miciotto, Robert J. “Shreveport’s First Major Health Crisis: The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1873.” North Louisiana Historical Journal, Volume 4, Number 4.
Morning Star Catholic Messenger Newspaper, December 21, 1873.
Nashville Union. Nashville, TN, September 17, 1873.
New Orleans Picayune. New Orleans, Louisiana (multiple dates).
New York Times. New York, N.Y. (multiple dates)
Nolan, Charles E. Splendors of Faith: New Orleans Catholic Churches, 1727-1930. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.
O’Pry, Maude Hearn. Chronicles of Shreveport. Shreveport, Louisiana: 1928.
Ouachita Telegraph. Monroe, Louisiana. (multiple dates)
Partain, Fr. Chad A. A Tool Pushed by Providence: Bishop Auguste Martin and the Catholic Church in North Louisiana. Alexandria, Louisiana: 2010.
Plauche, Rt. Rev. Msgr. J.V. A Brief History of Holy Trinity Church, Shreveport, Louisiana, and of the Catholic Church in Northwest Louisiana. Shreveport, Louisiana: 1942.
Plummer, Marguerite J. and Gary D. Joiner. Historic Shreveport-Bossier: An Illustrated History of Shreveport and Bossier City, San Antonio, Texas: Historical Publishing Network, 2000.
Rapides Gazette. Alexandria, Louisiana. (multiple dates)
Shape of Shreveport Documentary Series, Ring Media Group, Shreveport, Louisiana, 2015.
Shreveport Journal. Shreveport, Louisiana. (multiple dates)
The Scholastic, South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, November 29, 1873.
Woodworth, John. Annual Report of the Supervising Surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service of the United States for Fiscal Year 1873. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1873.
Woodworth, John. Annual Report of the Supervising Surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service of the United States for Fiscal Year 1874. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1874.