Père Isidore Armand Quémerais
Serviteur de Dieu
Martyr de la charité
Mort à Shreveport le 15 septembre 1873
en prenant soin des victimes de l’épidémie de la fièvre jaune.
Né à Pleine-Fougères en Bretagne (France) le 9 septembre 1847
Ordonné à Natchitoches en Louisiane en janvier 1871
Prêtre dans les paroisses de Rapides, Avoyelles et Cado.
France, on Sept. 9, 1847
Mort à Shreveport le 15 Septembre 1873
Isidore was born to Pierre and Ann Quémerais
Isidore Quémerais est né dans un village rural, d’un père agriculteur. Ses parents qui ont décelé les capacités intellectuelles de leur fils ainsi que sa piété et son désir de devenir prêtre, lui ont permis de quitter la maison à l’âge de 16 ans pour étudier au séminaire de Saint-Méen dans le diocèse de Rennes, fondé au III° siècle. C’est là qu’en 1870, il a été choisi pour quitter son pays natal profondément ancré dans le catholicisme. Il rejoignit d’autres prêtres bretons dans un nouveau diocèse de la Louisiane du nord, vaste contrée d’un pays inconnu, aride et à peine colonisé où les catholiques n’étaient qu’une petite minorité. Avec un zèle missionnaire fervent et une dévotion filiale à son évêque, le jeune Isidore fut ordonné prêtre à l’âge de 23 ans. L’évêque le nomma vicaire de l’église de la Sainte-Trinité à Shreveport début 1873.
Plus tard, au cours de l’été de cette même année, à peine remis d’une maladie, le P. Quémerais entra dans la ville pour servir la population confrontée aux graves dangers de l’épidémie de fièvre jaune. Lui et son curé, le P. Pierre faisaient partie du premier groupe de volontaires au moment où la ville organisait des actions charitables envers ceux qui étaient touchés par le virus. Exerçant son ministère en pleine quarantaine, Le P. Quémerais fit ce choix, sachant très bien qu’il contracterait la maladie de la fièvre jaune qui le conduirait à une mort terrible. Malgré sa santé déjà fragilisée par la tuberculose qu’il avait eue auparavant, le jeune prêtre, fidèle à la Sainte Messe et au bréviaire, donnait l’onction aux mourants, se tenait au chevet des innombrables malades et mourants en les assurant de la vie éternelle et leur donnant l’espoir de la résurrection. Tout juste âgé de 26 ans, le Père Quémerais s’est littéralement tué à la tâche jusqu’à ce qu’il tombe malade et meure. Il a été le premier prêtre à mourir le 15 septembre 1873.
Mgr Martin a reconnu que le père Quémerais mourut en « pratiquant une charité qui imite » l’amour du Christ pour son peuple et le désignait comme « une fleur… cueillie par les anges pour le ciel »
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 Isidore Quémerais
Dieu tout puissant et miséricordieux, tu as rempli le cœur de ton prêtre, Isidore Quémerais de générosité dans son rôle de missionnaire passionné, de piété, de douceur, et de dévouement bienfaisant. En à peine deux ans et demi, il a travaillé avec enthousiasme dans ta vigne et, inspiré et animé par la charité, avec détermination, il a offert librement sa vie pour le salut de son prochain sans distinction de croyance, de race, ou de condition au cours d’une grave épidémie en apaisant les malades et les mourants dans l’espérance de la vie éternelle.
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. Isidore 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).
Official bio sent to the Congregation
for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican
Fr. Isidore Armand Quémerais, who died on September 15, 1873 at the age of 26 years, was serving as the Assistant Pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Shreveport at the time of the yellow fever outbreak. 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. Bishop Auguste Martin recruited Fr. Quémerais from the seminary to travel with him to Louisiana in 1871.
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. 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, was known by all who observed him in his final days. 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.”
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.
« Il n’y a pas de plus grand amour que de donner sa vie pour ses amis » (Jn 15,13)
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.