Father Louis Marie Gergaud

Servant of God

Martyr to His Charity caring for Victims of the Yellow Fever Epidemic

Born in Héric, France, on March 22, 1832

Ordained in Nantes, France, on Sept. 23, 1854

Ministered in the Parishes of 
Ouachita – Morehouse – Union – Webster – Claiborne – Caldwell – Franklin 

Died in Shreveport on October 1, 1873


Fr. Louis Gergaud was born on March 22, 1832 in Héric, France, near the city of Nantes, to Sebastian and Ann Gergaud. He was baptized at the local St. Nicholas Church. As a teenager, Louis Gergaud entered the Grand Seminary in Nantes where he was ordained a priest on September 23, 1854, for service in the newly erected Diocese of Natchitoches. The young priest was assigned to the missions in Northeast Louisiana and became the founding pastor of St. Matthew Church in Monroe.  Despite overt hostility toward him as a Catholic priest, Fr. Gergaud persevered in his ministry among people of all creeds and ethnicities, giving freely of his time and resources to all in need and tending to the spiritual care of the slaves and former slaves of the region “like Fr. Peter Claver.” Known for his kindness and fortitude and ardent desire to evangelize, he established Catholic schools for both boys and girls. Catholic growth in the region expanded ten-fold during his time of ministry.

“Fr. Gergaud was a saintly priest, a true shepherd of souls who often left the 99 in the field to go after the lost one. He not only took care of the Catholics in Monroe, but he had mission stations in Minden, Homer, Germantown, Bastrop, Logtown, Columbia, Winnsboro, Harrisonburg, Woodville … he visited these missions, some regularly, and were very dear to his heart … Fr. Gergaud was no ordinary priest; he was distinguished in every respect and stood head and shoulders above all of the other priests of his diocese.”

In his own letter to Bishop Jacquemet of Nantes in April 1855, Fr. Gergaud relates much about the challenges he faced, but yet the great joy at his work in baptizing and evangelizing even among hostile conditions:

“I experienced some of the manners that our Protestant brothers use to address a Catholic priest, who must simply walk without taking into account the insults he is the object of, and be happy in his heart to be a little despised for the love of Jesus Christ.”

In that same letter, Fr. Gergaud also reveals his profound charity and concern for the enslaved of the American South on the eve of the Civil War:

“The slaves are almost abandoned, and we cannot reach them now, either because of the distrust of their masters, or because of the corruption that is pervasive here which makes it unable for us to get into their camps without losing our honor and reputation … we run the risk of not having the opportunity to imitate the admirable devotion of Father Claver to these people. Most of these poor people are baptized, but for most of them, it is the only symbol they have of a Christian.”

When Fr. Gergaud received the missive from Fr. Biler in Shreveport about the epidemic crisis and the deaths of Fr. Quémerais and Fr. Pierre, he did not hesitate. After sending word to Fr. Biler that he would leave by stage coach that very day (September 18), eyewitness accounts relate that as Fr. Gergaud mounted the stage coach to leave, he was thronged by citizens of that city. Those once hostile to his presence were begging him not to go. Fr. Gergaud turned to his associate pastor, Fr. Quelard, and said,

“Write to the bishop, and tell him I go to my death. It is my duty, and I go.”

Fr. Louis Gergaud died of Yellow Fever in Shreveport on October 1, 1873, ministered to in his final moments by Fr. Francois Le Vezouet who had recently arrived from Natchitoches. In his letter to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Paris, Bishop Martin remembered Fr. Gergaud this way:

“Fr. Gergaud was a true “Homo Dei.” Endowed with a very energetic nature, an elevated and cultivated spirit, patient and ardent zeal, a tender and generous heart protected by a prudent and reserved manner, Mr. Gergaud was a torch spreading light and heat around him. In a place where never before had a priest resided, where I had nothing to offer him but the unfinished skeleton of a chapel and a few diffident Christians and where I doubted that he could live, Mr. Gergaud founded and leaves behind him a flourishing mission … He lived only 10 days in Shreveport, welcomed by all as a God-sent angel, he overextended himself during one week to satisfy all the needs; he exerted himself beyond measure. There were more than 1,000 sick people, of that number perhaps fewer than 25 were Catholic, but, in the presence of death, it was the priest that everyone called for, and God alone knows how many souls owe their salvation to the heroism of this priest.”

Some months after his death, Fr. Gergaud’s mortal remains were moved from the public cemetery in Shreveport to his home parish of St. Matthew’s in Monroe, Louisiana, to be interred in the cemetery he founded. The records of that parish relate the transfer of his remains:

“Father Gergaud insisted on going to Shreveport to attend the sufferers from Yellow Fever, now bereaved of their pastor Rev. Father Pierre, who was a victim of the disease. A few months later the body of the beloved father and friend reached Monroe. Every store in town was closed, and every person in town, irrespective of creed, attended en masse the imposing obsequies.”

Profound evidence of the strong, if nascent, devotion to Fr. Gergaud is evidenced in a December 1873 petition from the Catholics of Shreveport that the bishop would permit his mortal remains to be buried in Shreveport with the other priests.

Fr. Gergaud is buried in the cemetery he founded, St. Matthew’s Church Cemetery in Monroe.  The original marble tombstone over his grave reads that he “died a martyr to his charity.”


Almighty and merciful God, You filled the heart of your priest, Servant of God Louis Gergaud, with apostolic zeal, an energetic nature, patience and forgiveness in the face of persecution and discrimination, courage in leadership, a pastor’s heart toward all and humility instead of personal advancement.  Inspired and sustained by charity, this true man of God, calling it his duty, made the free and willing offering of his life to care so directly for the sick and dying, and to bury the dead, in a far off city during a virulent epidemic, knowing his decision would result in his premature death.

Bestow upon me the grace to ardently love my neighbor and fully trust in Your providential love, as did this martyr to his charity.  If it be Your will, O God, glorify our beloved Servant of God by granting the favor I now request (mention your request), so that, we pray, all may know of his heroic virtue and holiness and may imitate his love for You and Your Church. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be)

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.”

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)

Devotion to Fr. Gergaud

Evidence of an immediate and continuous commemoration and devotion to Fr. Gergaud is substantiated by many examples found in the historical record and in popular devotional patterns and practices:

  1. Newspaper reports from more than 50 sources following his death, beginning immediately (October 1, 1873).
  2. 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. Gergaud.
  3. The report of the New Orleans Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, detailing the death of Fr. Gergaud 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.”
  4. An article honoring Fr. Gergaud (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.”
  5. The petition of the Catholics of Monroe, Louisiana, to Bishop Martin asking permission to transfer Fr. Gergaud’s mortal remains to his home parish of St. Matthew’s, citing the profound devotion to their pastor of nearly eighteen years.
  6. The subsequent report of the Catholic News Messenger describing the petition of the Catholics of Shreveport that Bishop Auguste Martin would permit Fr. Gergaud’s mortal remains to instead be buried in Shreveport with the other “martyrs to their charity.”
  7. The parish records of St. Matthew’s Church in Monroe, describing the procession to return Fr. Gergaud’s remains to Monroe, and the reverence and devotion shown by those of the community, Protestants and Catholics alike.
  8. The report of the Shreveport Times detailing the 25th anniversary memorial Mass for Fr. Gergaud 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.
  9. The installation of commemorative stained glass windows in 1946 at Holy Trinity Church in Shreveport honoring the memory of Fr. Louis Gergaud speaks directly to a cult of local devotion that had been nurtured for 70 years.
  10. Painting of Fr. Gergaud’s likeness in the ceiling fresco of Holy Trinity Church in Shreveport, completed at approximately the same time as the above.
  11. 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. Gergaud 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.
  12. The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Yellow Fever epidemic and the death of Fr. Gergaud 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. Gergaud’s death in great numbers.
  13. Shape of Shreveport Television Documentary Series, “Yellow Jack Comes to Shreveport,” chronicling the death and sacrifice of Fr. Gergaud and other priests during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic, January 2015. This included the acknowledgement of patterns of devotion for Fr. Gergaud and the other priests that continue to be obvious in the city.
  14. 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. Gergaud and other priests, 2015, noting the devotion to him that continues to this day.
  15. Use of Fr. Gergaud’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. Gergaud’s example as having profound personal influence.
  16. Prayer cards printed by the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport, Louisiana to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the death of Fr. Gergaud and other priests, 2018.
  17. Diocese of Shreveport research delegation to France, Diocese of Nantes, reception by clergy there and their interest in following a historical investigation for the purpose of opening a cause, February 2019.
  18. Podcast mini-series for national audience, No Greater Love: Shreveport 1873, chronicling the life of Fr. Gergaud and other priests of the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic. This project also includes a graphic novel in serial production and a book-length manuscript.
  19. 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.
  20. Local patterns of devotion to Fr. Louis Gergaud 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, and circulation of prayer card images of him and prayers for his intercession.