God bless the priests

Toddler killed in flood waters
April 14, 2015
Earline Arabie
April 15, 2015

It was less than a year after Hurricane Andrew had collided with Dulac, making landfall in nearby Morgan City, and I had returned to the bayou country from the comfort of the apartment I then occupied in New Orleans to see how the new friends I had during and after that storm were doing.

The priest from Holy Family Church in Dulac, Father Roch Naquin, had invited me to the upcoming blessing of the fleet after I had weathered my first hurricane, doing interviews in waist-high water while bloated cats and other formerly living creatures floating by atop floodwaters tinged with the hues of motor oil and gasoline-induced rainbow sheens.

It was good, he said, to come at a time when the people are happy and so I did.

And that is how I ended up viewing – right next to the priest – the Dulac boat blessing of 1993. Many others have followed.

So there I was Sunday on board a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office patrol boat, which was leading yet another annual procession, this one down Bayou Petit Caillou. Lt. Mike Ledet was operating the boat, just ahead of the lead shrimp boat with its colorful banners and the white-robed priest who sat at the prow, Father Wilmer Todd.

Col. Tommy Odom was coordinating bot-blessing operations from the law enforcement vessel by radio; another ceremony was taking place on Bayou Grand Caillou. There was supposed to be a third, in Montegut, but dark gray skies and the threat of certain rain caused those folks to wait an extra week.

But back to Father Todd. He is now the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Chauvin, having succeeded the ailing Msgr. Frederic Brunet, who now lives in retirement in Thibodaux. For years, Father Brunet was a symbol of this tradition, with his black-billed captain’s hat.

“It’s my first year, this is my very first time,” said Father Todd, as he peeled crawfish near the bow of the shrimping vessel Daddy Bucks, the guest of skipper Jordan Picou and his family. He couldn’t really comment on how this year’s event was different from others, if at all, since he was a newbie. Not as a priest, mind you. Just as the priest who gives blessings from the bow of a boat.

Much difficulty has visited Chauvin and other communities within which our people make a living from the water. There are the storms, which they have gotten very good at weathering. There are the price fluctuations with shrimp and all other things harvested from the sea, which have from time to time made for great hardship. There was the oil spill in 2010, which resulted in a precautionary fishery shutdown. The list goes on.

So here was this man willing to take on the role of one with a direct line to God, not only for matters involving fishermen but all of the people in the area who profess faith enough to come to him with their problems. And I thought as I looked at him how strong his shoulders need to be, not only to minister in general, but to minister to a community where faith in God is so often challenged by acts of God, a lot more so than in some other places – unless you are talking about oil spills, which is a different department entirely.

And suddenly my respect for this man, who answers to the man in Rome who walks in the shoes of the great fisherman Peter, who was with Christ when he stilled the waves on the Sea of Galilee, became so very much greater.

It caused me to think that while the priests at the boat blessings are seeking

God’s intercession on behalf of the fishermen, that the nets should be full, that the equipment should work properly and that all should be safe, that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to say a prayer for the priests as well.


Senior Staff Writer

The Rev. Wilmer Todd (left) on board the trawler Daddy Bucks travels through Chauvin, as other boats join behind during the annual blessing of the fleet.