Author Topic: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.  (Read 285 times)

Offline GiftOfGod

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In 1955, Fr. Clement Meyer sent Fr. Gerald Lewis, an Negro priest, to St. Cecilia (a chapel/mission church) in rural Jesuit Bend, Louisiana. Once there, he was stopped by parishioners from entering the church because of his color. The chapel was thereupon placed under interdict by the the German immigrant and future Second Vatican Council participant Archbishop of New Orleans, Joseph Francis Rummel. The archbishop required all parishioners to sign apology cards promising to submit to any priest that is sent, under penalty of excommunication. Very few cards were signed and returned but the archbishop blinked and did not follow through with his threat of parish-wide excommunication. In response, for two years, the archbishop did not permit priests to go to St. Cecilia and slashed the number of Masses at the next-closed church by 1/3 as punitive measures.  This lasted for two years before another priest, reportedly via subterfuge (promising to never again send a Black priest), obtained signatures from a number parishioners promising to accept whatever priest was sent to them. Abp Rummel approved the reopening of the chapel before eventually discovering the ruse, but wished to save face and not renege on the order. Fortunately for him, the chapel was destroyed by a hurricane soon after. He refused to allow it to be rebuilt. After almost 300 years of presence, Jesuit Bend, Louisiana lost its Catholic Church. As of 2021, there is still not a Catholic Church in Jesuit Bend. St. Cecilia's mother parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse, has been plagued by the sex abuse scandal and it's parochial school, the only one left in the parish (county), is slated for closure due to low enrollment, 60 years after desegregation.

Below are all of the historical accounts that I could find on the open internet.


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An incident in 1955 at a town called Jesuit Bend, some 20 miles from New Orleans, illustrates the lengths to which conservative Catholics are prepared to go to defy the archbishop. A priest of the Society of the Divine Word, Fr. Gerald Lewis, S.V.D., who is black, was barred by parishioners of St. Cecilia’s Chapel from entering the chapel to celebrate Mass. Rummel promptly placed the parish under interdict, forbidding the celebration of the sacraments there until the parishioners repented, saying “every human being, regardless of race, color or nationality, is created after the image and likeness of God.”

A passionate advocate of segregation, the conservative Plaquemines parish leader Judge Leander Perez has tangled with the archbishop before on racial issues and is expected to oppose him on the integration of the schools of the archdiocese.

The parishioners remained unbowed, ignoring further pleas by the archbishop “to open their minds to truth and to let justice and charity take the place of hatred and prejudice in their hearts.” The chapel remained closed until 1958, when the unrepentant parishioners finally negotiated a back-room understanding with the Society of the Divine Word that no black priest would be sent to minister to them. The May 15, 1958, issue of Jet Magazine expressed concern with this headline: “Did Catholic Bishop Give in to La. Bigots? Negroes Still Segregated in Chapel, Despite Prelate’s Vows.”

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In October 1955 parishioners at a mission church in nearby Jesuit Bend refused to admit an African-American priest assigned there on temporary duty. In February 1956 representatives in the Louisiana State Legislature threatened to prevent the integration of Catholic schools. In March 1956 a group of prominent New Orleans citizens, including notable segregationist Leander Perez, organized the Association of Catholic Laymen to prevent integration. However, Rummel possessed a powerful means of combating such challenges: excommunication. The archbishop threatened to use the Church’s most extreme sanction against any politician that voted for legislation that interfered in Catholic education. He also threatened to excommunicate members of the Association of Catholic Laymen if the organization did not dissolve. Further, Rummel placed the community of Jesuit Bend under interdict, closing their church and their access to the sacraments. These potent threats worked, with state legislators backing down, the Association of Catholic Laymen disbanding, and even the parishioners of Jesuit Bend offering an apology (albeit a limited one) three years after the Rummel’s interdict. The degree of segregationist agitation, however, forced Rummel to slow to pace of dismantling segregation, with integration not arriving to New Orleans Catholic schools until 1962.



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« Last Edit: December 04, 2021, 01:20:02 AM by GiftOfGod »
If attending Mass, the ordinary form as celebrated everyday around the world be sinful, then the Church no longer exists. Period.
Rather, if the NOM were the lex credendi of the Church, then the Church would no longer exist. However, the true mass and the true sacraments still exist and will hold the candle of faith until Our Lord steps in to restore His Bride to her glory.
We could compare ourselves to the Catholics in England at the time of the Reformation. Was it sinful for them to attend Cranmer's service?
We have to remind ourselves that all the machinery of the "Church" continued in place. They had priests, bishops, churches, cathedrals. But all of them were using the new "Book of Common Prayer" instead of the Catholic Mass. Ordinary lay people could see with their own eyes an enormous entity that called itself the "Church," but did the true Church still exist in that situation? Meanwhile, in small hiding places in certain homes were a handful of true priests offering the true Mass at the risk of imprisonment, torture and death.

 
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Offline Bernadette

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Re: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2021, 08:12:02 AM »
that's terrible.
"Make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found."
 

Offline GiftOfGod

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Re: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2021, 03:03:55 PM »
that's terrible.
Which part: the parishioners refusing a negro priest or the archbishop trying to force a negro priest on the parish under threat of excommunication and denial of sacraments (which are still in effect to this day)?
If attending Mass, the ordinary form as celebrated everyday around the world be sinful, then the Church no longer exists. Period.
Rather, if the NOM were the lex credendi of the Church, then the Church would no longer exist. However, the true mass and the true sacraments still exist and will hold the candle of faith until Our Lord steps in to restore His Bride to her glory.
We could compare ourselves to the Catholics in England at the time of the Reformation. Was it sinful for them to attend Cranmer's service?
We have to remind ourselves that all the machinery of the "Church" continued in place. They had priests, bishops, churches, cathedrals. But all of them were using the new "Book of Common Prayer" instead of the Catholic Mass. Ordinary lay people could see with their own eyes an enormous entity that called itself the "Church," but did the true Church still exist in that situation? Meanwhile, in small hiding places in certain homes were a handful of true priests offering the true Mass at the risk of imprisonment, torture and death.

 
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Offline mikemac

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Re: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2021, 05:29:48 PM »
See this took place in the same neck of the woods as your other thread about "The Priest and the Politician".  Both south of New Orleans.
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Offline GiftOfGod

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Re: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2021, 06:18:58 PM »
See this took place in the same neck of the woods as your other thread about "The Priest and the Politician".  Both south of New Orleans.
Same archdiocese but different church. The other one was Our Lady of Good Harbor in Buras, Louisiana. This one is St. Cecilia in Jesuit Bend, Louisiana.
If attending Mass, the ordinary form as celebrated everyday around the world be sinful, then the Church no longer exists. Period.
Rather, if the NOM were the lex credendi of the Church, then the Church would no longer exist. However, the true mass and the true sacraments still exist and will hold the candle of faith until Our Lord steps in to restore His Bride to her glory.
We could compare ourselves to the Catholics in England at the time of the Reformation. Was it sinful for them to attend Cranmer's service?
We have to remind ourselves that all the machinery of the "Church" continued in place. They had priests, bishops, churches, cathedrals. But all of them were using the new "Book of Common Prayer" instead of the Catholic Mass. Ordinary lay people could see with their own eyes an enormous entity that called itself the "Church," but did the true Church still exist in that situation? Meanwhile, in small hiding places in certain homes were a handful of true priests offering the true Mass at the risk of imprisonment, torture and death.

 

Offline Bernadette

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Re: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2021, 05:57:42 PM »
that's terrible.
Which part: the parishioners refusing a negro priest or the archbishop trying to force a negro priest on the parish under threat of excommunication and denial of sacraments (which are still in effect to this day)?

The parishoners refusing a black priest. I can't say I'm surprised, but it's still terrible.
"Make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found."
 
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Offline Prayerful

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Re: 1955: The time parishioners refused a negro priest and almost got excomm.
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2021, 08:21:39 PM »
+Rummel was quite the social justice man. The parishioners were wrong not giving heed to 'neither Jew, Greek or gentile' but refusing to allow the chapel to be rebuilt erased what was quite an old Catholic community.
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