Père François Le Vézouët
SERVITEUR DE DIEU
Martyr de la charité
Mort à Shreveport le 8 octobre 1873
en prenant soin des victimes de l’épidémie de la fièvre jaune.
Né à Brélidy, en Bretagne (France) le 10 août 1833.
Ordonné à Natchitoches en Louisiane le 3 mai 1856.
Prêtre dans les paroisses de Sabine et de Natchitoches.
Mort à Shreveport le 8 octobre 1873
François Le Vézouët est né dans une famille aisée mais a tout quitté pour entrer au Séminaire de Saint-Brieuc où ses capacités intellectuelles et son don pour les langues l’ont aidé à réussir ses études. En 1854, le jeune Le Vézouët rencontra Mgr Martin de Natchitoches alors qu’il était en Bretagne pour recruter des volontaires. Poussé par le zèle apostolique pour le salut des âmes, il partit vers le pays inhospitalier qu’était la Louisiane du nord.
Le P. Le Vézouët devint responsable du Collège Saint-Joseph et directeur diocésain de la Propagation de la Foi. Rempli de zèle et de joie, il fut aussi au service des pauvres et des déshérités disséminés dans les communautés qui s’étendaient entre deux rivières, la Red et la Sabine. Il instruisait la population, régularisait les unions par le mariage, construisait des églises et, grâce à la Parole de Dieu et aux sacrements, il éleva un grand nombre de fidèles à la dignité de chrétiens. La première église et le premier cimetière furent construits à Many.
Quand il apprit qu’on avait absolument besoin d’un prêtre à Shreveport, le P. Le Vézouët se porta généreusement volontaire pour aller dans la ville frappée par la maladie, puisque telle était la volonté du Seigneur par la voix de son évêque. La nouvelle de la détermination de ce prêtre dévoué et généreux se répandit vite et un grand nombre de personnes allèrent le voir pour le supplier de ne pas y aller. « Vous allez mourir » dit quelqu’un dans la foule. « Je sais, mais je crois que je prends le chemin le plus sûr et le plus court vers le paradis ».
Il arriva à temps pour donner les derniers sacrements au P. Jean-Marie Biler et plus tard au P. Louis Gergaud. Il accomplit son ministère de prêtre, tant au niveau humain que spirituel, auprès de centaines de personnes qui n’étaient pourtant pour lui que des étrangers en souffrance. Le P. Le Vézouët tomba lui aussi malade de la fièvre jaune. Mgr Martin demanda de l’aide aux prêtres de La Nouvelle-Orléans et deux d’entre eux arrivèrent à temps pour donner au P. Le Vézouët les derniers sacrements. Il mourut le 8 octobre 1873 à l’âge de 40 ans.
Il est enterré au cimetière Saint-Joseph au pied d’un grand calvaire à la mémoire des cinq Serviteurs de Dieu.
Prière pour la béatification du Serviteur de Dieu François Le Vézouët
Dieu tout-puissant et miséricordieux, ton serviteur François Le Vézouët a renoncé à la condition aisée de sa famille et tu as rempli son cœur de zèle missionnaire, d’amour pour ton peuple ‘tout particulièrement les pauvres et les non-catéchisés’, comme enseignant et apôtre pour les jeunes. Inspiré et animé par la charité, il a librement offert sa vie pour le salut de son prochain dans une ville lointaine frappée d’une grave épidémie, voyant en cela « le chemin le plus sûr et le plus court vers le paradis ».
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. François 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. Francois LeVezouet was the final priest to die as “a martyr to his charity” in the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic in Shreveport. A native of Brélidy, France, Fr. LeVezouet was born in that village of Brittany into a wealthy agricultural family, to parents Jean and Madelaine Bolloret LeVezouet, on August 10, 1833. He was baptized at the local Church of St. Columba. LeVezouet attended the Seminary of St. Brieuc, which he entered for formal study on October 1, 1852. Records there indicate a first tonsure on March 11, 1854 and to minor orders on June 10, 1854. In October of 1854, LeVezouet accompanied Bishop Auguste Martin, Fr. Louis Gergaud and seminarian Jean Pierre from the Port of Havre to come to Louisiana.
Ordained a priest in Natchitoches, Louisiana on May 3, 1856, Fr. LeVezouet became president of St. Joseph’s College and Seminary for the formation of future priests of the diocese. His rapid grasp of the English language and documented intellect made him, by many accounts, the most trusted and valued assistant to Bishop Martin who normally kept him close. He worked in growing mission areas around Natchitoches and Central Louisiana, and established the first church building and cemetery in Many, Louisiana, which today is the parish of St. John the Baptist.
It was Bishop Martin who received the message from Fr. Biler in Shreveport asking for priests to come at once to relieve the suffering of Shreveport. It was therefore Bishop Martin who passed the request to Fr. LeVezouet, along with a desperate plea contained in a separate letter from Mother Mary Hyacinth at the Daughters of the Cross convent who feared that Shreveport and its suffering people would soon be without the Sacraments, as there would be no clergy left. Documented in the primary source account of Bishop Martin’s correspondence is an exchange between the priest and his bishop, during which Fr. LeVezouet revealed the depth and extent of his piety, charity and zeal. Bishop Martin related that Fr. LeVezouet unfolded and examined the papers. Bishop Martin then asked him what he wished to do in response, and LeVezouet responded,
“I want to go so much that if you left the decision up to me, I would believe that in going I was acting according to my own will. I do not want to do anything but the will of God.”
Fr. LeVezouet then spent the following day putting his personal affairs in order and visiting a few friends and families dear to him in his adopted home of Natchitoches. Like Fr. Gergaud, he was much beloved, and those who heard of his imminent departure could not help but express concern that he was going to his death, such was the fearful mortality rate of the Shreveport epidemic. Word of his determination to depart for Shreveport traveled fast, and many approached him as he was preparing to leave, begging him not to go. The following final exchange is documented in the eyewitness accounts:
“You are going to your death,” someone in a gathered crowd told him. Fr. LeVezouet responded: “I believe it, but I know that I am taking the surest and shortest path to heaven.”
After administering the final Sacraments to Fr. Louis Gergaud on October 1, 1873 and serving the sick and dying of Shreveport, Fr. LeVezouet soon fell ill with Yellow Fever himself. Bishop Martin, unable to send any more priests to Shreveport, specifically requested priests from New Orleans, over 300 miles away, who had been exposed to the illness previously and would therefore presumably have more immunity. To that end, two priests from New Orleans, Fr. James Duffo, S.J. and Fr. Charles Ferec, arrived on October 8, just hours before Fr. LeVezouet passed away and just in time to provide for Fr. LeVezouet his final Sacraments.
In his memorial letter, Bishop Martin said of Fr. Le Vezouet:
“Mr. Le Vezouet, from a very Christian family of wealthy farmers of the diocese of St. Brieuc, was endowed with wide-ranging intelligence and a keen imagination. He had completed a brilliant course of classical and scientific studies and passed, with distinction, the examinations then required by the university … among all the careers open to him, he chose the serious and dedicated life of the priesthood and had completed his theological studies when, in 1854, he asked to follow me … although he usually resided in Natchitoches, where his presence had become indispensable to me, he regularly fulfilled his missions with the dedicated zeal that he brought to everything that he undertook; he did this as an apostle for nine years, instructing the people, validating marriages, building and furnishing churches; and by the Divine Word and grace of the Sacraments, he elevated these unrefined people to the dignity of Christians …”
« Il n’y a pas de plus grand amour que de donner sa vie pour ses amis » (Jn 15,13)
Devotion to Fr. LeVezouet
Evidence of an immediate and continuous commemoration and devotion to Fr. Le Vezouet 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 8, 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. Le Vezouet.
- The report of the New Orleans Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, detailing the death of Fr. Le Vezouet 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. Le Vezouet (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. Le Vezouet’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. Le Vezouet’s 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. Le Vezouet 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. Le Vezouet speaks directly to a cult of local devotion that had been nurtured for 70 years.
- Painting of Fr. Le Vezouet’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. Le Vezouet 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. Le Vezouet 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. Le Vezouet’s death in great numbers.
- Shape of Shreveport Television Documentary Series, “Yellow Jack Comes to Shreveport,” chronicling the death and sacrifice of Fr. Le Vezouet and other priests during the 1873 Yellow Fever epidemic, January 2015. This included the acknowledgement of patterns of devotion for Fr. Le Vezouet 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. Le Vezouet and other priests, 2015, noting the devotion to him that continues to this day.
- Use of Fr. Le Vezouet’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. Le Vezouet’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. Le Vezouet 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. Le Vezouet in his hometown of Brelidy, France, during the above referenced delegation, February 2019.
- Inspired by his example, there is an ongoing tradition in the Le Vezouet family of seeking religious life and holy orders. Among his living relatives in Brittany are found priests and religious sisters.
- Podcast mini-series for national audience, No Greater Love: Shreveport 1873, chronicling the life of Fr. Le Vezouet 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. Francois Le Vezouet 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.