Pastor Profile: Father Oswald Pierre Pierre-Jules

Pastor of St. David Catholic Church in the  Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Almost 10 years ago, the entire country was shocked at the devastation that occurred in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever touch U.S. soil, had hit the city. Though the region is still recovering from the storm, one church is providing hope to its commu-nity that normalcy may return to the beleaguered city.

Father Oswald Pierre Pierre-Jules, Jr., SSJ, is the pastor of  St. David Catholic Church in the city’s Lower 9th Ward. Father Pierre-Jules has been pastor at the church since 2010 when he arrived after serving as an associate pastor for two years. Upon arriving at St. David’s, his first parish as a pastor, Father Pierre-Jules said he was pleasantly surprised at how far the parish was in its recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina.

“Even today if you go to the 9th Ward, you will still see the effects of Katrina,” Father Pierre-Jules said. “I was moved and impressed to see how far St. David was in terms of recovering. The faith community is resilient. And I knew that I had to do my part when it came to leading the parish and faith community in recovering from Katrina.”

Father Pierre-Jules under-stood the challenges, one was getting parishioners, both old and new, to come back to the church. Many parishioners were displaced because of the hurricane, he said, and some relocated to other cities and states. Nonetheless, he knew that he had to find a way to bring people to the church.

“I knew that I had to do my part,” Father Pierre-Jules said. “That’s why there is an evan-gelization ministry, whose goal is to go out in the neighbor-hood and let people know that St. David is back. It has been almost four years, but I can say that the parish is growing slowly, but it’s growing.” Another challenge would be Father Pierre-Jules being acclimated to the area and its residents. Though he had spent two years in New Orleans when he first became a Josephite, those years were in another part of New Orleans; and having just come from Washington, D.C., Father Pierre-Jules admitted there was a big difference between the two cities.

Father Pierre-Jules believes both he and the community feed off each other in improving the area.

“It’s a community where you can see that there is hope that the community will come back and be rebuilt again. That motivates me, too, that I have a part to play in rebuilding the community,” he said.

Part of that rebuilding is a former school that many parishioners attended. The old building was demolished and a new one has taken its place. The building will be dedicated on June 29, 2014. Once an elementary school, the new structure will house a Total Community Action Head Start program for the next few years. It is Father Pierre-Jules’ desire that the school be a symbol that the future is bright in the 9th Ward.

“The community is coming back. The building, and what will take place in it, will play a vital role in the church’s and the community’s recovery.”

St. Francis Academy

The mission of rebuilding lives, learning new skills, and returning to society.

For 187 years, St. Frances Academy and the Oblate Sisters of Providence have lived the Holy Gospel according to Matthew through their ministry in Balti-more. In fact, in the prayer for the canonization of the founder of our school, Mother Mary Lange, OSP, we note in a particu-lar way that “Mother Lange had the ability to see Christ in each person and the pain of prejudice and racial hatred never blurred her vision.”

As a Catholic, college-prepara-tory high school, our work with teenagers at St. Frances Acad-emy is well known. Sitting in the shadow of the Baltimore City Jail, the narrative of St. Frances Academy has often been told by contrasting the uplifting mission and story of our school with that of the correctional facility across the street.

Clearly, we would never expect our students to end up “across the street.” But, by contrast, some of those incarcerated dream of ending up “across the street.”  Because, from their perspec-tive in prison, “across the street” means St. Frances Academy. Our mission of introducing men and women to Christ is gradually extending beyond only those enrolled in the school.

Incarcerated individuals are often described as people “repay-ing their debt to society.” In the past five years, St. Frances Academy has benefited from the work of men and women, who are seeking to rebuild their lives, learn new skills and ultimately return to society as productive members of the community. Men, learning to be carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc., have done thousands of dollars worth of restorative and maintenance work on our historic campus.

Our Chapel, which was completed in 1906, was completely restored by those from “across the street.” These men and women renovated two row homes in the neighborhood that now house a dozen St. Fran-ces Academy students who were unable otherwise to find a stable place to live.

When it snows in Baltimore, these men and women clear our lots and make sure our students and staff can walk safely into the school. They lovingly clear the campus of trash and litter and are some of the biggest fans of our sports teams.

Remarkably, their respective pasts are not a secret to the school community. While pragmatism demands that their access to the school and its students has to be limited, we have not fielded one complaint or cause for concern about their work. Despite their past shortcomings, poor deci-sions and destructive lifestyles, many who discover Christ can turn their lives around.

Catholic ministry in the African-American community has always been characterized by welcome and hospitality. Extending this hospitality and forgiveness to those who are not by any means victims is, at times, a challenge. But it is a challenge that Jesus commands that we meet. And if this chal-lenge is met, we too can enjoy the rewards promised to those who are faithful.

In the Footsteps of St. Joseph

Men of Hospitality, Men of Hope!  Josephite Seminarians Continue their Journey.

How do you respond to the presence of family and friends who come to visit you in times of sorrow or in times of great surprise? Hopefully, you would try to return the generosity and kindness. It was a wonder-ful break from the routine of St. Joseph the Worker House of Formation on Jan. 28. The students of the House of Formation in Iperu-Remo and Father Henry J. Davis, SSJ, journeyed to the city of Ibadan, Nigeria to visit the newest place of formation for the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

St. Martin de Porres Josephite House of Studies opened in the fall of 2013 with six seminarians. These men began their studies in philoso-phy attending the Dominican Institute, which is about 10 minutes away from their resi-dence. Through the generosity of Josephite parishioners and benefactors, the Josephites were able to lease a building to house the new philosophy students who finished their spiritual year in Iperu-Remo. These new brothers received gracious hospitality from these brothers of philosophy who modeled the spirit of St. Joseph as a man of glorious home life and great hospitality.

This was an unannounced trip to this house since our brothers just celebrated with us on a Sunday celebration a few days earlier. They surprised us with their presence that day so we returned the joy back to them.

Father Godwin Akpan, SSJ, meets these men and interacts with them daily. Their day begins with Lauds from the Liturgy of the Hours followed by breakfast. Afterwards, the brothers gather their books and laptops to journey to the Dominican Institute for lectures and associations with other religious communities  in the classroom. Once the Josephite seminarians return home in the evening, they gather for Josephite prayers, meditation and the celebration of Mass.

Father Akpan and the students then come together to share a meal at the table and to share some thoughts on the day. Josephite hospitality never exhibits itself as arbitrary but expands and touches upon the celestial virtue of presence and  availability.

The men of St. Martin de Porres Josephite House of Studies – in their witness to Father Davis and the students of the St. Joseph the Worker House of Formation – display an exemplary life in honor of St. Joseph. What a wonderful, positive, and proud moment that men who come seeking a way of religious life selected the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart!

Josephite spirituality expresses a desire to serve others in imitation of St. Joseph with a heart like Jesus. As we continue our prayers in honor of St. Joseph, be it through the Thirty Day Prayer or in the Novena to St. Joseph, may all men and women of faith grow in joy and hope of God’s love and presence to others.

St. Joseph, glory of home life and sweet spouse of our Lady, pray for us.

Josephite Father Henry Davis is the rector of the House of Forma-tion in Iperu-Remo, Nigeria.

Rites of Passage

Josephite parish offers program to help youth bloom into adults.

It all started with a vision. A vision, Lauren Williams said, that she needed to step up and make a difference in the lives of the young girls surrounding her. Once Ms. Williams got this vision, she has never looked back.

Ms. Williams is the founder of the Girls Rites of Passage program at Our Mother of Mercy parish in Houston, TX, a Josephite parish. The program began in 1999.
“I prayed and asked God for something that I could give back to the community,” Ms. Williams said. “I was on my way to work driving and sing-ing one day and a vision came in my mind to start a program for young girls at our church.

“The next morning I called one of my spiritual mothers and she said, ‘When you get a vision, you have to take it and write it down.”

It wasn’t until a year later that Ms. Williams was once again in her car when she heard something on the radio about girls’ rites of passage. At that moment, she said, she knew that would be the name of her program. She connected with other women who would help the program take shape into what it has become today.

“Everything was God orch-estrated. All we did was be obedient,” she said.

The program, which merged with the boys mentoring program at the church in 2011, is year-round and for girls nine through 18 years old. The girls are schooled on a variety of topics from the mentors in the program. The subject matter includes career goal setting, hygiene, and spiritu-ality. Each monthly session also involves tutoring as well as public speaking training. There are currently 15 girls in the program.

“We teach our kids skills on how to become productive Christian men and women in society,” Ms. Williams explained. “We teach them how to be leaders, and how to maintain their dignity.”

The girls are given a budded rose at the beginning of the program, and a rose in bloom upon completion “because we hope for them to blossom into womanhood,” Ms. Williams explained.

The mentors in the program are also very involved with the girls’ lives, Ms. Williams said. They contact the parents and ask if the mentee is having issues at school, at home, or any other areas of their life.

Ms. Williams said her own experiences were an important factor in establishing the program.

“I feel like you never go through something for your-self,” she said. “When you go through something and you learn a lesson from it, I feel like we have a responsibility to pass it on. I just asked God to give me something I can give to young girls who are at risk.”

Those who have gone through the program have  translated their experiences into success. A majority of the girls have gone on to college. It is also not uncommon for them to come back and want to be mentors to the younger girls at the church.

Though she has no children of her own, Ms. Williams said watching the successes and the brotherhood and sisterhood form among the children in the rites of passage program is equally rewarding.

“God has given me a joy of sharing with parents the gift of giving these girls the things they will need in life,” Ms. Williams said. “I get my joy from that.”

Father Norvel Delievers an Easter Message