Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Seventy-five years ago, Harold Robert Perry was entering his final year of theology at Saint Augustine Major Seminary in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. At the age of 13, I was just beginning my first year of studies at Saint Augustine Minor Seminary. Homesick after some hours of my first day there, I sat down on the steps of the auditorium and cried myself to sleep. Evidently alerted by someone, Harold approached me and we talked about my homesickness. Buoyed by his words, I got up, walked around and was soon running wild with the other boys. That was my first and only instance of homesickness in the seminary.
How many others did Harold help along the way? He was ordained to the priesthood on January 6, 1944. He was the 26th African American to be ordained a Catholic priest. Unbelievably, there was just over a score of U.S. black priests at that time, compared to about 250 now, most of them not members of the Society of the Divine Word. There are also well more than 400 black permanent deacons now.
His first assignment was as associate pastor at Immaculate Heart Of Mary Church in Lafayette until 1948, when he was transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Saint Martinville. Next, he served at Saint Peter Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas 1949-51 and at Saint Gabriel Church in Mound Bayou, Mississippi 1951-52, before returning to Louisiana in 1952 as founding pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Broussard, Louisiana. Thus, 65 years ago, during his six years as pastor, he built the church, rectory and school. Reflecting on Father Harold Perry’s historic pastorate at Saint Joseph, I penned the following reflections on his ministry March 30, 2009.
“Il semble comme nous!” (He looks like us).
With recognition and pleasure, the Creole-speaking gens de couleur (colored people) of the townlet of Broussard (circa 10,000), Louisiana proudly commented on the image of Jesus Christ concreted in relief against the wall above the front entrance of their spanking new church.
“He looks like us!” they exulted, much to the delight of their new pastor, Rev. Harold Robert Perry, SVD. After all, years ahead of his time, it was a bold statement back in 1952 for him to dare depict Jesus with obviously Negroid features. As I introduced a parish revival there at Saint Joseph Church in 2014, I was pleased to learn that many recalled having said that at their church’s birth.
Since his ordination on January 6, 1944, Father Perry had cut his pastoral teeth under the tutelage of the first four black SVDs ordained in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi May 23, 1934: Anthony Bourges, Maurice Rousseve, Vincent Smith and Francis Wade.
Named Rector of his Alma Mater, Saint Augustine Divine Word Seminary in Bay Saint Louis, in 1958, Father Perry was elected Provincial Superior of the SVD Southern province of the U.S.A., in 1964. He was ordained a bishop for the Archdiocese of New Orleans by Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., on January 6, 1966, in the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France.
Led by Father Thomas James, S.V.D., the current pastor of Saint Joseph, the parishioners hosted a Founder’s Day Prayer Breakfast of Gratitude at the Bishop Perry Learning Center of the church on Saturday, July 14. Saints Joseph/Anthony Gospel choir fired up all with Lead Me Guide Me, keying a 30-minute prayer service of gratitude that segued into breakfast. Another song preceded the ritual burning of petitions written by the folks. A song led into the presentation of a glass-etched portrait of Bishop Harold Perry to his family and another to the people of Saint Joseph Church, then remarks by Doctor James Perry, D.D.S., the youngest and only-surviving of Bishop Perry’s siblings. Guest speaker, Perry cousin Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD., addressed the group. Father Thomas James offered a joyous closing prayer of thanksgiving.
For the adventurous, a trolley car toured Holy Rosary Institute, Avery Island and Vermilionville where 34 pickup musicians thrilled us with guitars, violins, etc.
Bishop Charles Michael Jarrell and two concelebrants led a festive Mass of thanksgiving with a full house., Sunday morning. A light closing repast in the Bishop Perry Learning Center concluded the festivities.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)