Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

June 8, 2006


            New Orleans has hope. The Gulf Coast has hope. African American Catholics in that devastated area have hope.

            That’s the feeling I got after spending a week giving a retreat to the Josephite priests and brothers from the hurricane ravaged parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

            The Josephites are a community of just under 150 priests and brothers. They are the only religious community in the Church with a vocation to serve the African American community.

            Admittedly, things have looked pretty bleak lately for both the Gulf Coast and the Josephites.

            Everybody knows the devastation wrought by the Hurricanes, the evil twin sisters Katrina and Rita.

            Two of the pastors on the retreat lost their parishes altogether. Several are being reassigned because their communities are “mothballed” for 18 months until it can be determined if people are coming back.

            Over the past several years, like many religious orders, the Josephites have lost members as the elderly die and very few young men coming forward for vows.

            But, this is where the hope comes in.

            Suddenly, this community is back on the radar screen of the American Church and thousands of individual Catholics have had exposure to that area in relief efforts.

            The Josephites do not seem dispirited.

            True they are aging. Their median age is 70.  Five of the active pastors on the retreat were over the age of 80. But they are still active in ministry in their eighth decade of life.

            Despite all kinds of disasters that had befallen them, like St. Paul, they might be shipwrecked but they are not lost.

            One of them, Fr. Bart Endslow, 86, is living in a little FEMA travel trailer. His rectory in Pass Christian, Mississippi, floated up onto the nearby railroad tracks in Katrina. 

            Fr. Michael Thompson, one of the youngest Josephites at age 48, spent several days on an interstate overpass in New Orleans after he was rescued by boat from his rectory.

            Fr. Ray Bomberger, spent several nights in the dark and quiet of New Orleans after the flood, when he had to retreat to the second floor of his rectory at Epiphany parish. From there he watched the city in uncommon darkness and could hear voices crying out from roof tops around him.

            Whatever their age and whatever disaster befell them, the Josephites were focused on the future. In a strange way, these terrible storms might be a blessing for the Catholics of the Gulf Coast and for the Josephites.

            The hurricanes have given those communities new drive and purpose.

            The hurricanes have also reminded the rest of the American Church of them. We are reminded of the great missionary work or the Josephites and of a half a century to education for Black youth in New Orleans at St. Augustine’s High School, even when other religious orders educated whites only.

            Maybe there is opportunity in all this disaster. There is a chance to invite African American men into work in the vineyard of the Lord. There is also a chance to remind the whole U.S. Catholic Church that the work of building a just society and a multi-racial church is far from done.

            The storms have certainly changed my life. Our parish has now made four trips to the Mississippi coast to work rebuilding the Josephite parish in Pass Christian, MS.

            The experience of my parish has been replicated in dozens of other parishes and hundreds of other people around the country.

            This is not an opportunity to be lost. The Josephites don’t intend to lose it.

            That is why they have hope.