Rev. Jerome LeDoux, Who Fought To Keep His Church Open After Katrina, Dies At 88
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Father Jerome LeDoux, one of the most beloved and colorful Catholic priests in New Orleans, has died at age 88. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates met Father LeDoux when she visited the city a few months after Hurricane Katrina. She has this appreciation.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Anyone who met Father Jerome LeDoux was going to get a history lesson. That was certainly the case if you visited him at St. Augustine, the nation's oldest black Catholic church. He'd proudly explain that when it was founded, St. Augustine began as an integrated space.
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JEROME LEDOUX: We had one whole aisle of free people of color. They had bought those pews for their families to worship in on Sundays. They had also bought the short pews. They didn't need those, so they gave those to the slaves. And for the first time in their existence, the slaves had their own place of worship.
BATES: Eventually, St. Augustine's became completely black and Creole, free and enslaved. And the service reflected the parishioners' African roots.
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LEDOUX: They simply combined the Old Testament and the New Testament with their African ceremonies and chants. So the Old Testament came out with a new ring unheard of in the entire world. (Singing) When Israel was in Egypt land, let my people go.
BATES: Father LeDoux opened St. Augustine's to whoever was in need. Sandra Johnson Gordon, a St. Augustine's parishioner since 1968, says Jerome LeDoux had a bedroom on the rectory's second floor. But he never used it.
SANDRA JOHNSON GORDON: Father LeDoux slept on a pallet on the first floor because so many people would come during the night because they knew he would give them shelter and food or whatever they need. And he slept on that pallet on the floor so he could be readily available to reach the door in a timely manner.
BATES: His attachment to his parish was completely mutual. When the archbishop of New Orleans announced he was going to merge St. Augustine with another nearby black Catholic Church, the St. Augustine's congregation was up in arms. They waged a fierce campaign to keep St. Augustine's separate and open. Ultimately, they were successful, but at a cost. The archbishop removed Father LeDoux from the church, saying he'd reached mandatory retirement age. Parishioners saw this as a retribution for their victory.
Sandra Johnson Gordon says Father LeDoux officiated at her marriage, christened her children and buried many of her family members. She says the charismatic priest never put himself first.
GORDON: He was never first, second, third, fourth. He was 100th. He was fine with that. He will be greatly, greatly missed by so very many.
BATES: Many celebrations of Father Jerome LeDoux's life will be next week, first in Opelousas, La., and then in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where he'll be buried. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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