“We’ve come this far by faith.”
Those words, headlining the recent booklet commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Jeanerette, are particularly relevant in two key areas.
First, in spite of difficulties, this parish was begun in 1944 under the guidance of The Society of Divine Word Missionaries. A small wooden edifice was built and The Rev. Cosmos Schneider became the first pastor. A few years later parishioners worked to establish the adjacent Catholic school, and in 1983 the new brick church was built.
Secondly, it was faith yet again that eventually led a young man from the West African nation of Ghana into fulfilling his dream of becoming a priest. Overcoming numerous obstacles, this man achieved his goal and after following a circuitous route is the current pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Last week, I went to the rectory where I met and visited with the remarkable The Rev. Francis Damoah. After some pleasantries, I felt that my host was eager to tell me details about his path to the priesthood — and I was just as enthusiastic to hear them. My pen and pad immediately came out of my pocket.
He told me that as a youngster he had become acquainted with missionaries from the SVD in his hometown of Diaso. The religious life was beginning to call him — but several delays were in store. He first went to his country’s capital of Accra where he worked as a tailor. While there the future priest spoke to his pastor, Father Hanson, who interested him in perhaps joining the religious order. But he first had to finish high school.
He passed the entrance exam, but was rejected twice by an administrator at interviews...partly due to a seemingly unacceptable hairstyle. At The Rev. Hanson’s urging, the young tailor obtained a diploma by studying at night and after earning a teaching certificate, he was finally allowed to become a brother within the SVD. After taking his perpetual vows, the order sent him to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for further studies.
“While there,” The Rev. Francis admitted, “I was told that before becoming a priest, I had to wait five more years. I received two more degrees in the meantime. But at that period I doubted that I could succeed, but an inner voice told me to keep trying and not give up.”
During those frequent setbacks, it was the combined forces of faith, prayer and perseverance that sustained him.
“Finally my superior, Father Joseph Simon, granted me permission to enter Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans,” he continued. “I’ve been a priest for 10 years and Jeanerette is my fourth parish.”
The Rev. Francis explained that he’s had a warm welcome here. He also admires the volunteerism so prevalent in the parishioners, particularly during the church’s recent anniversary. He’s deeply grateful for their endeavors.
Before leaving the rectory, the good padre firmly held my hand and said, “My journey, which started in Diaso and is currently in Jeanerette, is an ongoing story.”
Back at home in a notebook I found these thoughts by Edna St. Vincent Millay: “Not Truth, but Faith it is/ That keeps the world alive.”
O.J. GONZALEZ is a native and resident of Jeanerette. He graduated from USL in printmaking and photography and his photographs have appeared in publications in Louisiana, Alaska, Canada, New Zealand and England.