Photograph: Many of the Catholic Priests attending the Memorial Mass for Servant of God Rev. Joseph Verbis Lafleur marching towards the altar in St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas. (Photograph by Freddie Herpin.)
Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur was described Thursday night as a man on a mission, whose powerful influence and life lessons still provide an impact 79 years after his death.
The life of Lafleur, a highly decorated World War II military chaplain and candidate for Roman Catholic Church beatification, was framed in a continued virtuous service to others, said Father Michael Richard, the celebrant and homilist for an annual mass held at St. Landry Catholic Church on the anniversary of Lafleur’s death.
Richard, the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Henderson and Sacred Heart Church in Butte La Rose, is the chairperson of the Historical Commission created by the Church for examining the cause of potential sainthood for Lafleur.
The Commission archives stories and information associated with the life of Lafleur and could eventually provide enough evidence that will lead Church officials to further the beatification cause for Lafleur, said Richard.
Lafleur, a Ville Platte native who grew up in Opelousas, left the city at 14 in order to enter the seminary in order to become a priest.
It is important, Richard told the crowd assembled for the mass, to continue telling the story of Lafleur, as a way of providing a continued example of selfless dedication to others.
Richard reminded those who attended the mass, that Lafleur, who performed his 1938 first solemn mass at St. Landry Catholic Church, showed a passionate and generous nature for others during his short life.
Although Lafleur and other U.S. servicemen spent over two years in brutal captivity, his confinement which included forced labor, starvation and physical punishment, didn’t deter Lafleur from remaining dedicated to his religious mission, Richard added.
“Throughout his life, Father Lafleur was a man on a mission, a witness for Christ, who like the saints, preceded us into the kingdom. In the seminary and in his studies, he pushed himself and volunteered to serve our country in 1941. During that time, he always fought for his men,” Richard noted.
Richard pointed out that in 1942 and again in 2017, Lafleur, already a Bronze Star recipient, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest honor awarded by the U.S. military.
At Clark Field during a Japanese bombing raid near Manila on Dec. 8, 1941, Lafleur, then 29 years-old, repeatedly risked his life by moving across the airfield, attending to those who were wounded and providing the last rites of the Church.
Then on Sept. 7, 1944, Lafleur was again in action religiously and militarily, providing help for those attempting to escape a Japanese merchant ship that was torpedoed by an American submarine.
Those actions about the sinking ship earned Lafleur his second Distinguished Cross, presented during a ceremony at St. Landry Catholic Church.
“As a chaplain Lafleur considered it his mission to always serve his men. Through the eyes of his men, we know that Lafleur always demonstrated his virtue and character, leading many of them to Christ. Even when he was out on a work detail after being captured, Lafleur inspired his own men,” said Richard.
Lafleur again demonstrated his dedication to his men as the torpedoed ship began sinking near the Philippine coastline, Richard said.
“All this time Lafleur was again concerned for the safety of his men, praying with them and helping them to safety through the one escape hole of a ship that was sinking rapidly,” Richard pointed out.
Richard said Lafleur, who presumably died while attempting to help others escape, again showed that he was willing to “lay down his life for his men, his brothers. He showed us throughout his life that we can be like Christ, and love our brothers. From the accounts provided by his men (Lafleur) did that.”