Père Louis Marie Gergaud
SERVITEUR DE DIEU
MARTYR DE LA CHARITE.
Mort à Shreveport le 1er octobre 1873
en prenant soin des victimes de l’épidémie de la fièvre jaune.
Né à Héric en France le 22 mars 1832.
Ordonné à Nantes en France le 23 septembre 1854.
Prêtre dans les paroisses d’Ouachita, Morehouse, Union, Webster, Claiborne, Caldwell and Franklin.
Mort à Shreveport le 1er octobre 1873
Adolescent, Louis Gergaud entra au Grand séminaire de Nantes et fut ordonné prêtre pour servir le nouveau diocèse de Natchitoches. Le jeune prêtre fut envoyé en mission au nord-est de la Louisiane et devint le premier curé de l’église Saint Mathieu à Monroe. Malgré une hostilité manifeste à son égard en tant que prêtre catholique, le P. Gergaud persévéra dans son ministère au milieu d’une population de croyances et de races différentes en donnant généreusement son temps et ses ressources à tous ceux qui étaient dans le besoin et en aidant spirituellement les esclaves et les anciens esclaves de la région « comme le P. Pierre Claver ». Connu pour sa gentillesse, sa force de caractère et son ardent désir d’annoncer l’Evangile, il fonda des écoles catholiques pour les garçons comme pour les filles. Le nombre de catholiques dans la région a été multiplié par dix durant les années de sa mission.
Quand le P. Gergaud eut connaissance de l’épidémie et de la mort du P. Quémerais et du P Pierre, il partit en diligence le jour même. Les paroissiens et d’autres habitants auparavant hostiles à sa présence, le supplier de rester. Dans une imitation du Christ complète et exemplaire, il dit à son vicaire : « Ecrivez à l’évêque et dites-lui que je vais vers la mort. C’est mon devoir, je dois y aller. »
Le P. Gergaud arriva dans la ville tenue en quarantaine et se dévoua sans compter. Bien qu’il y eût plus d’un millier de malades, à peine vingt-cinq d’entre eux étaient catholiques. Au moment de la mort, c’était le prêtre que tout le monde appelait. Il ne resta que dix jours à Shreveport, souffrant la plupart du temps des horreurs de la fièvre jaune. Dans ses derniers instants, il reçut l’extrême onction du P. Le Vézouët et rendit l’âme le 1er octobre 1873, fort de cette charité qui avait atteint en lui sa perfection.
En le qualifiant d’Homo Dei (Homme de Dieu), Mgr Martin dira plus tard « Dieu seul savait combien d’âmes doivent leur salut à l’héroïsme de ce prêtre catholique ».
Le P.Gergaud est enterré dans le cimetière qu’il fonda, le cimetière de l’église Saint Mathieu à Monroe.
Prière pour la béatification du Serviteur de Dieu Louis Gergaud
Dieu tout-puissant et miséricordieux, tu as rempli le cœur de ton prêtre Louis Gergaud de zèle apostolique, d’une nature énergique, de patience, de pardon face à la persécution et à la discrimination. Tu lui as accordé du courage pour exercer son autorité, un cœur de pasteur ouvert à tous et l’humilité plutôt que la réussite personnelle. Inspiré et animé par la charité, ce véritable homme de Dieu, fit l’offrande libre et volontaire de sa vie et affirmait qu’il ne faisait que son devoir. Il s’occupait lui-même des malades et des mourants, il enterrait les morts dans une ville loin de tout, pendant une épidémie virulente sachant que sa décision le conduirait à une mort prématurée.
Accorde-moi la grâce d’aimer mon prochain d’un amour ardent et de faire pleinement confiance à ta divine providence comme le fit ce martyr de la charité. Si telle est ta volonté, Seigneur, glorifie notre bien-aimé Serviteur de Dieu P. Louis en m’accordant la grâce que je te demande aujourd’hui (préciser votre intention) de telle sorte qu’à notre prière, tous puissent connaître ses vertus héroïques et sa sainteté et puissent imiter son amour pour toi et ton Église. Par Jésus-Christ Notre-Seigneur. Amen. (Notre Père – Je vous salue Marie – Gloire à Dieu).
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.”
Official bio sent to the Congregation
for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican
Fr. Louis Gergaud was the fourth priest to sacrifice his own life for the Yellow Fever victims in Shreveport. He 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. Fr. Gergaud attended the Grand Seminary in Nantes, and was ordained at the Cathedral in Nantes on September 23, 1854. He departed France for Louisiana without delay in October 1854 with Bishop Auguste Martin, and was assigned to the missions in Monroe, where he became the founding pastor of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church.
The historical record documents well the heroic virtue and exemplary life of Fr. Gergaud. The accounts speak also of the many challenges which he overcame in his mission of Louisiana and how he persevered in his ministry in Northeast Louisiana in a heavily Protestant environment that was at times overtly hostile to his very presence. Fr. Gergaud was the pastor of the Monroe community for nearly 18 years, before answering the call of charity to go to Shreveport during the Yellow Fever epidemic. During this time, he worked tirelessly to establish Catholic schools for both boys and girls, and the first Catholic cemetery for the area. He also supervised many mission communities, including Homer and Minden.
In a 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.”
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 LeVezouet 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 … 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.”
« Il n’y a pas de plus grand amour que de donner sa vie pour ses amis » (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:
- Newspaper reports from more than 50 sources following his death, beginning immediately (October 1, 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. Gergaud.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.