Fr. Jerome LeDoux dies at 88
When Our Mother of Mercy parishioners learned former pastor, Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lay near death in a Lafayette, Louisiana hospital January 7, members of the Monday night worship group that he started gathered to pray for him.
“There were tears and sobs as we asked God to bring him into His kingdom,” recalled Marie Barks, a lifelong member of the predominantly African-American parish in Fort Worth. “He never, ever, thought of himself. It was always about somebody else. That was the kind of man he was.”
Later that evening, Barks received word that Fr. LeDoux, who shared his keen intellect, love of jazz music, and knowledge of Scripture with the OMM congregation from 2006 to 2015, died after double bypass surgery surrounded by his SVD brothers. He was 88-years-old.
“Everyone is heartbroken,” she added, describing the disconsolate messages being exchanged between parishioners. “I never met a soul like him. When my father was dying, Fr. LeDoux was there for me every minute. He always told us that God was love and we needed to love each other the way God loved us.”
Parishioners at Our Mother of Mercy, located at 1001 E. Terrell Ave., will celebrate the life of Fr. LeDoux with a Memorial Mass on Friday, January 18 at 7 p.m. following Adoration.
Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on February 26, 1930, Fr. LeDoux first discerned the call to religious life as a 13-year-old following in the footsteps of an older cousin and brother. His cousin, the late Harold Perry, would later become auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of New Orleans and his brother, Louis Verlin, a priest.
“They had gone to the seminary ahead of me,” he recounted in a 2018 interview with Kreol Magazine.
The high school — St. Augustine Seminary — was located in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi off the Gulf of Mexico.
“They referred to it as ‘The Bay,’ — this romantic, storied place where these boys were going. Naturally, I might want to go there, too. That was the start of it back in 1943.”
His classical education at the high school included learning Latin, French, and Greek along with courses in religion and music. After earning a college degree and years of spiritual formation, Fr. LeDoux was ordained to the priesthood on May 11, 1957 in the St. Augustine Seminary chapel. A few months later, his Society of the Divine Word superiors sent him to Rome for further education. While there, he received a doctoral degree in canon law and master’s degree in sacred theology.
During his 61 years in ministry, the skilled communicator taught moral theology and canon law to seminarians, was a member of the Xavier University theology department for 11 years, wrote a weekly, syndicated column, “Reflections on Life” for Catholic newspapers and authored a book, The War of the Pews, which detailed the historical and social significance of New Orleans’ St. Augustine Church to a post-Hurricane Katrina audience.
But his most fulfilling role was as pastor to several faith communities in Texas and Louisiana.
“The only thing he wanted to be was a simple parish priest,” said OMM parishioner Frank Norvel. “He had a deep love for the ministry.”
Raised two city blocks from the church, the former parish handyman saw a lot of Fr. LeDoux.
“He spoke several languages, was very inquisitive, and had a phenomenal memory,” the 75-year-old added. “To meet this man so close to the end of my life is a blessing.”
When the pastor left OMM with thoughts of retiring to Bay St. Louis, Norvel didn’t have the heart to say goodbye. He occasionally visited the priest and, along with several other parishioners, saw him for the last time six or seven months ago in Opelousas, Louisiana. Fr. LeDoux was one of three priests serving 2,500 families at Holy Ghost Catholic Parish, one of the biggest African-American parishes in the U.S.
“At 88-years-old, he was still working and would say Mass for people in the nursing home every day at 9 a.m.” Norvel marveled. “He was still a simple parish priest loved by everyone. He was that right until the end.”
Ralph McCloud, an OMM member who works for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., paid tribute to his friend in a Facebook post and remembered how Fr. LeDoux, a vegan, would prepare meatless, dairy-free meals for parishioners. Using a few short verses, the former Fort Worth City Councilman captured the pastor’s unforgettable traits and personality.
“His laugh was contagious.
His smile was infectious.
His charm was undeniable.
He always had time.
He danced, he sang, he prayed.
He listened. He spoke. He wrote.
He was probably the most intelligent person we ever met
And the humblest person we ever met.
Knew no stranger.
Knew no enemies.
Knew no fear.
With soup, tamales, praline, eggnog, and trail mix he fed our bodies.
With faith and love for God, he fed our souls.”
Fr. LeDoux is survived by a sister, two brothers, and members of his religious order.
A Memorial Mass is planned for Monday, January 14 at 6 p.m. at Holy Ghost Parish in Opelousas. Prior to the Mass, his religious congregation will receive visitors from 3 to 5:45 p.m.
On Tuesday, January 15, St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis will hold a viewing from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., followed by a prayer service at 7 p.m.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 16 at St. Augustine Seminary. Interment will be at the seminary.