Charism of Holy Ghost Fathers had huge impact
on Black Catholic communities in Lake Charles
Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — Communities of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic churches owe much of their beginnings to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, better known as the Spiritans or Holy Ghost Fathers, whose mission is to evangelize and educate the poor and marginalized all over the world.
Parishioners of both churches had the chance to reflect on those early days when a group of Spiritans visited Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish on November 16 as part of the religious order’s 150th anniversary of ministry in the United States.
The tour was the first stop on a pilgrimage to several African American parishes and schools in Louisiana founded by the Holy Ghost Fathers in partnership with Saint Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
When Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church was founded in 1919, Father Anthony J. Hackett, C.S.Sp., a Holy Ghost Priest, was appointed as the first pastor. Other Holy Ghost Priests would follow, with up to six in residence at one time, working hard to stabilize the parish and offer spiritual guidance.
Rev. Michael Grey, C.S.Sp., was among the guests at the luncheon hosted by Immaculate Heart of Mary in Founders’ Hall. Now residing in Houston and serving as Chief Development Officer, Spiritan Office for Mission Advancement, Father Grey has fond memories of his assignment at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church between 1978-1983.
“I was ordained a deacon by Bishop Harold Perry to serve at Immaculate Heart of Mary, and later as a priest,” said Father Grey who was grateful to return to his roots. “The warmth and the love that I experienced here helped me to learn what it meant to be a priest. I received a firm foundation in a very vibrant, young Black Catholic church.”
Father Grey said he owes everything to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.
“It helped me in my early formative years as a priest to be with regular working people. I encountered a high-spirited Louisiana Catholic experience of my faith, especially with the African American tones,” Grey said. “It was a very welcoming experience with families.”
Black Catholics have played a vital role in the history and traditions of Christianity. Among them was Saint Katharine Drexel who was instrumental in opening Sacred Heart of Jesus/Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School in Lake Charles in 1908. She also founded Xavier University in New Orleans in 1925, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans.
Saint Katharine supported, financed, and encouraged Spiritans in their work among African Americans and Native Americans.
In remarks at the luncheon, Sacred Heart parishioner Charles Honore reminded those in attendance of comments once made by Bishop Glen John Provost: “Everything we have here at Sacred Heart and at other parishes in Lake Charles, including Immaculate Heart, began with two women. One was Katharine Drexel who has been canonized as a saint. The other was Eleanor Figaro, who should be canonized as a saint.”
Miss Figaro arrived in 1908 to serve as the first teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in a building known as Green’s Hall on the corner of Enterprise Boulevard and Mill Street. Six students prepared for their First Holy Communion in Miss Figaro’s first year.
With financial assistance from Mother Katharine Drexel, land was purchased and a school was erected in 1910 on Louisiana Avenue and Pine Street. Volunteers built what was known as the “little red schoolhouse.” Miss Figaro would share her heart for the Catholic faith with students for 43 years.
Shirley Green of Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Dr. Ina Delahoussaye of Sacred Heart, both shared memories. Ms. Green recalled how the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament taught with authority.
“At Sacred Heart, we were disciplined, and the Sisters believed in corporal punishment, and our parents agreed with that,” said Green. "More importantly, they educated us, especially in religion. I also remember the Holy Ghost Fathers and am grateful for all that they taught us and did for us.”
The Holy Ghost Fathers were known for their good citizenship, said Dr. Delahoussaye.
“They supported education for all children and faith formation in all church parishes,” she said. “Father Louis Perreault was like a gift from heaven brought down to my family. He played volleyball, baseball, picked blackberries and picked cherries off the trees at our house in the country. We loved it. He often celebrated Mass in our den.”
Delahoussaye went on to say how Father Perreault regularly worked in the kitchen with the ladies making popcorn balls, sweet potato pies and dinners for the bazaars.
“He worked right along with the men in the cemetery pulling grass and cleaning. That’s what the Holy Ghost Fathers do. They mix with the folks and just bring God,” said Dr. Delahoussaye. “They did exactly what Jesus Christ did. He did his work in the community. We benefited from that work at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church.”
The Holy Ghost Priests inspired many parishioners to pursue faith-based vocations — bishops, priests, nuns, deacons, religious educators, altar servers, musicians, to name a few.
Vocations fostered from within Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish include Bishop Harold Perry, S.V.D., Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans; Bishop Leonard Olivier, S.V.D., Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, D.C.; Rev. Robert Boxie III; Rev. Louis Verlin LeDoux, S.V.D, and his brother, Rev. Jerome LeDoux, S.V.D. Bishop Perry was the first African American bishop appointed in the United States in the 20th century.
Three deacons from Sacred Heart are now serving in the Diocese of Lake Charles — Deacon Edward Lavine and Deacon Erroll Deville, both assigned to Sacred Heart of Jesus; and Deacon Harold Nixon, assigned to Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church.
“Sacred Heart of Jesus parishioners are humbled by the service mentored by the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers. If you want some leaders in your midst, they would be the Holy Ghost Fathers,” said Delahoussaye.
A framed painting of the “Little Red Schoolhouse” by artist Eddie Mormon was presented to Father Grey as a keepsake of his years serving as a Holy Ghost Priest in Southwest Louisiana.
Before continuing their pilgrimage to Carencro, Opelousas and Iberville, the group of Spiritans enjoyed a delicious Southern-style meal of chicken and sausage gumbo, fried fish, crawfish etouffee, bread budding, and homemade pralines.
The Spiritans’ sesquicentennial anniversary celebration has been ongoing since January 2022 and will continue through Pentecost 2023. Learn more at https://spiritans.org/.