Last Modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 10:42 AM
A friendly slap on the back made Danny Hebert’s first meeting with Monsignor Joseph Bourque a memorable one. The life lessons and lifelong friendship that followed that introduction were typical of the effect Bourque made on people during his career of service.
Bourque died Tuesday at the age of 87. A Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 13, in St. John Bosco Catholic Church. Burial will be in Prien Memorial Park under the direction of Johnson Funeral Home.
The Iowa native was ordained in 1955 and served the Lafayette and Lake Charles dioceses until his retirement in 2000.
Bourque was the new priest at St. Theodore Church in Moss Bluff in 1978 when Hebert, then a seventh-grader, met him.
“I still remember that first moment,” Hebert said. “I had never met a priest that made such a positive impact on me. I stopped by with my dad to meet him. He shook my hand and slapped me, which I later found out was his trademark greeting. It was a very friendly greeting. When I have had to list the people who have helped me become a better person, I always list him first. He was a great teacher and mentor.
“I started working for him as an altar server, then traveled the country with him giving retreats. We started a group in high school that we called the YES group, Youth Evangelizing for the Savior. I did not know at the time that he was director of evangelization. We traveled to the Holy Lands and Rome with him.
“We got to present Pope John Paul II with a football from Sam Houston. We had won district championship and had all the players sign it. He had our group stand up at the Vatican and recognize our YES group for the work we were doing across the United States. I look back now and see how amazing that was. He had a gift for connecting with young people, to help them see the gifts that God gave them. He had a tremendous ability to do that. He said when God made you, he did not make junk. He made you to be the best. He would build confidence in young people to believe in themselves.”
Hebert said Bourque connected with young people by making sermons accessible.
“He would make the lessons interesting,” Hebert said. “He would be able to apply a message from one of the gospels to an everyday situation a person goes through in their life. He used a lot of analogies, just as Jesus did. He would relate it to a situation a teenager understood.”
Bourque made another big contribution in Hebert’s life.
“He introduced me to my wife, Lucie,” Hebert said. “She had just moved to Moss Bluff and was in 10th grade. I was in 11th. He told me I had to meet this pretty girl; he knew her grandmother. She belonged at St. Theodore, where I worked after school. He made sure we met, and he married us 27 years ago. He was a great man. I am going to miss him.”
The Rev. Scott Conner, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Oberlin, met Bourque while studying to become a priest in 2001.
“He had just retired and was focused on teaching outside of parish life, focusing on prayer,” Conner said. “I could tell he was a holy man. I was moved by his gentleness, compassion and ability to manifest the presence of Christ. He has always been a mentor and became a very good friend. We would visit very regularly. I got to visit him, talk about the nature of the priesthood, needs of the world and how to respond as priest.”
Conner said Bourque became a role model.
“He would share with me his experiences and give me good advice. At first he was a priest I knew, then he became a spiritual mentor, then a close friend. I could view his life as a great one to imitate. He always impressed upon me the fundamental importance of prayer and the need to study and cultivate one’s mind — and to always be with the people, to be seen with the people, to interact with the people.
“He was a friend in the deepest sense of the word. Friendship’s goal is to help one another become holy. He was trying to help me get to heaven and to be a good and holy priest. I think he made his mark by being an educator. He believed in teaching the faith and giving instruction to the laity so they could understand and bring the Gospel into the world. Many people will remember him as an educator.”
Deacon Fred Reed worked with Bourque for nearly a decade at St. John Bosco.
“I had known him already, when he was at St. Theodore’s. In about 1980 I was at Eunice and came to pick his brain about evangelism,” he said.
“We ended up here in 1984, then some years later he came here. He was here nine years, and he is the only pastor we have had that we never had cross words. He was just a wonderful man, even though he had a tough demeanor. It was wonderful. He told me to set up meetings with families that he could meet with so they could get to know their new shepherd. We did that for three months, talked to them, saw what they needed, and let them know what he was all about. It was easy to work with him. He demanded a lot, but he was not mean about it.”
Reed said Bourque will leave a legacy at the parish.
“ ‘Each one reach one’ was his motto,” Reed said.
“It is still on our church bulletin. He was wonderful with the young people. He always said, ‘You have to get the leaders.’ You go out and get the guy leaders, the football players, and everyone will follow them. He always had wonderful rapport with them. His philosophy on education was his other thing. He was a teacher before he became a priest. He would come in at 6 p.m., sit down and teach the catechism books to our teachers for 30 minutes, then tell them to go teach the kids. He knew his Scripture and taught them. He taught Bible studies until the day he died. He came from the heart and knew his Scripture so well. People responded to him because he was such a great teacher. He taught nothing but the truth. When you teach the truth, you draw people.”
Reed said Bourque brought the community together, then spread the Gospel around the world.
“When he came to the parish, he revitalized it. He brought the community together, all the different cultures. He started the Catholic Daughters here and brought all of the organizations together to bring that community about. He was always taking pilgrimages. We went to Mexico City four times; we went all over the United States. He went to France, Rome, everywhere. They were important to him because of the teacher in him, he was a teacher of the faith and was always teaching the Catholic heritage. He wanted you to learn more and more about your faith. He loved souls and wanted to bring them to Christ.
“He built a church and a school at St. Theodore. He built a prayer garden in Jennings. He came here, he built up our festival and a home for the priest. Some people were not happy about that, but he had a vision. We can’t always go out to the world, but we can bring the world to us. Within that rectory, he had international priests here. He brought in priests from India, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. He brought retired priests in. He used it as a ministry. He had a vision of what this place could be, and he brought the world to us in a real sense. He was a builder. He built buildings, but what did he build them for? To bring the faith to people. People will remember him for his speaking the truth. He was one of the best preachers you ever heard. He loved his people, loved his church and loved his God.”
Posted By: Shawn Davis On: 7/13/2013
Title: Heard at the dinner table at rectory in Jennings:
Msgr. Bourque: What kind of pie do you want?
Fr. Joseph: (Indian Accent) Oh any kind any kind!
Msgr Bourque: (mockingly) "Any kind any kind!" Well you're getting monkey pie, then!
Posted By: Crystal ( Bates) Shelton On: 7/13/2013
Uncle Alton was a wonderful, sweet, and caring man. I loved to be around him. I moved away and hadn't saw him in several several years. When mom told me that he had passed away I couldn't believe it. But it was really weird bc a couple nights before that I had a dream about him. I can't remember majority of the dream but I remember that we were at the ccd hall and we were talking. That's all I can remember. He will be missed dearly. He was very loved and respected!!! R.I.P Uncle Alton!
Posted By: Sean Bourque On: 7/12/2013
Rip Uncle Alton
Posted By: adam On: 7/12/2013
he was my relative but told the truth and cared so much