Boom: Louisiana bucking the trend of priest shortage

  Photo: Leslie Westbrook/LAGNS

Details from The Shreveport Times: 

They describe their childhoods as like those of any other boys: playing sports, dating nice girls and mastering crazy video games. But there were a few anomalies.

When Matt Barzare and his buddies played cops and robbers in Eunice as little kids, Barzare played a priest who could say Mass and give last rites.

“I even had this little satchel I filled with stuff I thought a priest might need,” Barzare said.

When the confidence of Mark Thibodeaux, S.J., as a young, newly minted school teacher, was badly rattled by a class of wild boys, he sought solace from the souls in Grand Coteau cemetery.

He went to the old cemetery that was the last resting place for Jesuits who came to Louisiana when it was a wilderness of ferocious heat, snakes, bugs and unmapped bayous.

“I’d read a history book that detailed their adventures and all the dangers they encountered. I felt like I knew them, so I started telling them how these boys could smell weakness and how mean they were to me,” Thibodeaux said.

What happened next he swears is true: The sound of ghostly chuckles wafted from the Jesuits’ graves as he told them his problems.

“I absolutely feel like I communed with them, and they gave me good advice about keeping problems in perspective,” he said. “I went back to teach and had a wonderful year.”

He is now a fully ordained Jesuit priest and the St. Charles College’s novice director in Grand Coteau. Barzare is now a deacon who will be one of seven men ordained as priests in Lafayette this month.

It’s the largest number to be ordained in St. John’s Cathedral since 1992.

Many of the Catholic dioceses in the United States have suffered from a shortage of priests in recent years.

The diocese in Cleveland, Ohio, even advised patients to ask for last rites as soon as they were admitted to the hospital because there might not be a priest available later.

But partly thanks to Acadiana’s powerful Catholic tradition and history, the Diocese of Lafayette has an abundance of priests.

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