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Acadiana touched by a saint and heroic priest

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For local Catholics, the coming week is like a visit from Haley’s Comet — chances are there won’t be one like this that touches the area for quite some time.
There are two reasons for this and while both are no longer among us here in Acadiana, at one time they were, if briefly: The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Lt. Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur.
As most of the world knows, the canonization of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is Sunday in Rome. Going forward, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity order will be known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
On Wednesday, a memorial Mass for Lefleur, a heroic priest from Ville Platte who died saving fellow POWs from a sinking ship in the Pacific, will be held at 6:30 p.m. at St. Landry Catholic Church.
Blessed Teresa visited Lafayette. Twice.
In 1986, the Cajundome was filled to capacity for the first time. At that time, Mother Teresa announced she was assigning four of her sisters to live and work in Lafayette. And the order is still here.
A second, less-publicized visit was made a year later to visit her sisters who resided across from St. John’s Cathedral. At first, Mother Teresa thought the sisters’ home was too distanced from their work, but when she saw the majesty of the cathedral, she changed her mind.
Since then, however, the order moved to a location in Lafayette more convenient to their work among the less fortunate. Sister Denise is now on her third tour with the order in Lafayette — and she couldn’t be happier — or more inspired.
“I wouldn’t be the way I am or who I am unless I had my sisters. Of course, it’s all interior; it’s all what the Holy Spirit inspires. But it’s such a gift to have their example and the rule of life that Mother figured,” Sister Denise said. “I don’t know how it all blends in, but I have to say my sisters have helped me to pray. My sisters have helped me to do the things and be more exemplary.
“So, I’m happy here,” she said. “That is for sure.”
At the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Bishop J.Douglas Deshotel will be celebrant of a special Mass at 10 a.m. Monday to celebrate the canonization of the Blessed Teresa.
The congenial Rev. James Brady has been the pastor of St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas for six years. He’s the lead celebrant and homilist for the 6:30 p.m. Mass.
“I had not known Father Lafleur’s story until I moved here,” Brady said. “Of course, when I got here, I learned about him immediately because of the monument.”
The monument is front and center at the church where LeFleur celebrated his thanksgiving Mass before his assignment as associate pastor at Abbeville’s St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church.
Chiseled from white Carrara marble by Italian artist Franco Alessandrini, the monument depicts the priest’s last moments, pushing a fellow POW to hoped-for freedom from a sinking vessel loaded with prisoners of war.
“It really is beautiful,” Brady said. “He did a great job.”
Panels at its base are reliefs from events in Lafleur’s relatively brief life, from his days in Abbeville giving some poor boys baseball gear that they needed, to helping wounded under Japanese attack at Clark Field Air Base in the Philippines the day after Pearl Harbor. Lafleur won the Distinguished Service Cross and was later awarded the Purple Heart as well as the Bronze Star.
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