Historical and Biographical Narrative
Father Isidore Quémerais
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. Isidore Armand Quémerais, aged 26 years, was serving as the Associate Pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Shreveport. This was his first true pastoral assignment. Fr. Quémerais was born to Pierre and Ann Quémerais on September 9, 1847 in the village of Pleine-Fougères in Brittany, France, where his baptism is recorded. He studied at the Seminary of Saint-Meen in the Diocese of Rennes, where a primary source record shows him enrolled in 1869. The letters and papers of Bishop Auguste Marie Martin, the first bishop of the Diocese of Natchitoches, recount that Fr. Quémerais was recruited from the seminary to travel with him to Louisiana in 1871, following Bishop Martin’s journey to the First Vatican Council.
The accounts of his life describe Fr. Quémerais as among the first, in the face of great danger, to freely volunteer as a caregiver in Shreveport’s epidemic. Fr. Quémerais, along with Fr. Jean Pierre, was present at the founding of the Shreveport chapter of the Howard Association, named in honor of British social justice champion John Howard, and he committed to staying to care for the sick and dying. In an age when medical science did not yet understand the role of the mosquito in the transmission of Yellow Fever, those who chose to stay in epidemic conditions did so with the expectation that they would, in fact, contract the illness from person-to-person contact. The mortality rate was known to be fearful. Fr. Quémerais assisted at the bedsides of countless sick and dying, without regard to creed or ethnicity of the sufferer.
That Fr. Quémerais worked to the point of total exhaustion, contributing to his own death from the illness on 15 September 1873, is documented in two significant primary accounts: a letter of Mother Mary Hyacinth Le Conniat, Superior at the Daughters of the Cross convent in Fairfield, and a memorial letter written by Bishop Martin to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Paris) in November 1873. A memoir written by Fr. Joseph Gentille, the second pastor of Holy Trinity, recounts that Fr. Quémerais was already suffering from “consumption” (tuberculosis) at the time he was ministering to Yellow Fever victims. His compromised immune system likely contributed to his rapid decline and demise. The precarious state of his own health was undoubtedly obvious to Fr. Quémerais, yet he chose to remain in epidemic conditions.
A major testimony to his character and piety comes from Bishop Auguste Martin, who wrote of him:
“Mr. Quémerais was one of the young Bretons who followed me to Louisiana on my return from the Vatican Council. The piety, the gentleness, the unselfish dedication of this young priest, his filial affection for his bishop and the ease with which he mastered the difficulties of the English language permitted me to place great hope in him for the future. This was a flower; the angels gathered him for heaven. After only two years of practicing the charity that emulates, he died on September 15.”
Devotion to Fr. Quemerais
Evidence of an immediate and continuous commemoration and devotion to Fr. Quémerais 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 15, 1873).
- 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. Quémerais.
- The report of the New Orleans Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, detailing the death of Fr. Fr. Quémerais 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.”
- The report of the Shreveport Times, announcing the ceremony and procession for the exhumation and removal of Fr. Fr. Quémerais’ body from the City Cemetery in Shreveport to Holy Trinity Church, February 2, 1876. The ceremony was clearly expected to attract many of the city’s citizens to attend.
- The report of the New Orleans Republican, detailing the ceremony for the exhumation and moving of Fr. Quémerais’ body from the City Cemetery in Shreveport to Holy Trinity Church, Shreveport, February 10, 1876, reporting that Shreveporters “processed with great reverence.”
- An article honoring Fr. Fr. Quémerais (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. Quémerais’ body from Holy Trinity to St. Joseph’s Cemetery, March 1884. This ceremony was reported to be as well attended as the first reinterment of 1876. 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. Quémerais’ body, including the dedication of the Calvary Mound in honor of his sacrifice, March 23, 1884.
- The report of the Shreveport Times detailing the 25th anniversary memorial Mass for Fr. Quémerais 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. Isidore Quémerais speaks directly to a cult of local devotion that had been nurtured for 70 years.
- Painting of Fr. Quémerais’ 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 Quemerais 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. Quémerais 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. Quemerais’ death in great numbers.
- Shape of Shreveport Television Documentary Series, “Yellow Jack Comes to Shreveport,” chronicling the death and sacrifice of Fr. Quémerais and other priests during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic, January 2015. This included the acknowledgement of patterns of devotion for Fr. Quemerais 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. Quémerais and other priests, 2015. This specifically remembers the original burial site of Fr. Quémerais and notes the reverence given the removal of his remains on two occasions.
- Use of Fr. Quémerais’ image on a Vocations poster for the Diocese of Shreveport as an example of exemplary service and sacrifice, 2017. Many seminarians have cited Fr. Quémerais’ 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. Quémerais and other priests, 2018.
- Diocese of Shreveport research delegation to Brittany, France, Archdiocese of Rennes, reception by clergy there and their interest in following a historical investigation for the purpose of opening a cause, February 2019.
- Podcast mini-series for national audience, No Greater Love: Shreveport 1873, chronicling the life of Fr. Quémerais and other priests of the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic. This was accompanied by 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. Isidore Quémerais evident in the community today include his ongoing inspiration for seminarians, circulation of prayer cards in his name and prayers for his intercession, pilgrimages to his graveside and its perpetual care with evidence of devotion obvious in flowers and items left in remembrance, and pilgrimages to Holy Trinity Church and his effigy in stained glass.
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.