Bishop Cheri to visit St. Vincent St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville will welcome back their former pastor, Bishop Ferdnand “Ferd” Cheri, OFM, on Sunday, April 12.
Bishop Cheri, who served as pastor of St. Vincent from 1996-2002, was ordained and installed as the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, his hometown, on March 23. He will celebrate the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Vincent on Sunday, April 12. The parish will host a reception for him after the Mass. People throughout the diocese are invited.
“We’re hoping to have a pretty big crowd,” said Loren Gaiters, a parishioner at St. Vincent who is helping to organize the Mass and reception.
The ordination and installation of Bishop Ferdnand “Ferd” Cheri, the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was filled with stirring music and heartfelt preaching, a reflection of the man taking up the miter and crozier of a bishop.
It was no surprise to his friends from St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville who had traveled to New Orleans for the ordination Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral on March 23. Bishop Cheri, a Franciscan, served as pastor of St. Vincent from 1996 to 2002.
“From the very first note from the choir I was so full,” said Loren Gaiters, who was among 15 St. Vincent parishioners who attended the ordination. “Everything was perfect. It was just beautiful.”
“The celebration itself reflected him,” said Deacon Bill Hill of St. Vincent, who was on the altar for the ordination. The newly ordained bishop drew inspiration for his comments at the end of the Mass from the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Deacon Hill noted.
“Of course he started dancing,” Deacon Hill said.
“When he worships, he gets caught up in it,” Deacon Hill said. “You can’t help but be affected by that.”
The new bishop brings many attributes to his new role, Deacon Hill said.
“He’s like a man for the masses,” Deacon Hill said. “He’s going to be out in the community, be out active doing things.”
Deacon Hill noted that Pope Francis recently said a terrorism among the clergy can exist when priests and deacons begin to think they are so important they want to be served rather than to serve others.
“Bishop Ferd is kind of the anti-terrorism if that’s the way you want to define terrorism,” Deacon Hill said. “He reaches out to people.”
The new bishop did just that the day before his ordination when he asked the pastor at St. Mary of the Angels Church in New Orleans, a fellow Franciscan, if he could preach at the Masses there, Deacon Hill said. The parish, located in the Ninth Ward, was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, he noted.
Deacon Hill, Gaiters and others from St. Vincent surprised Bishop Cheri when they showed up for the Mass to hear him preach and visit with him. “That homily … it was stirring,” Gaiters said.
Bishop Cheri is also a man of compassion, Deacon Hill said. He said that the new bishop, while he was serving as the campus minister at Quincy University in Illinois, made the 400-mile drive to Nashville to sit with a former St. Vincent parishioner who was on his deathbed, stayed two hours and made the long drive back to Quincy.
“He’s a man of compassion,” Deacon Hill said.
“He tries to understand what you need and he gives it to you in a way that’s not superficial. It’s real,” Gaiters said. “He touches you where you need to be touched in your soul. That understanding comes from the spiritual man he is.”
“He understands scripture and applies it to everyday life,” Deacon Hill said of the new bishop. “He understands struggles and pain of everyday people.”
Bishop Cheri helped reinvigorate St. Vincent when he served there as pastor. “He woke us up,” Gaiters said.
Drawing on his own experiences, some painful, as an African-American in the Catholic Church, Bishop Cheri brings to his ministry an appreciation of black consciousness and the tradition of African-American gospel music, Deacon Hill said. “Black people need a place in this Church,” Deacon Hill said.
“He makes sure the combination of Catholicism and African American music are nurtured in a parish, which is important,” said Gaiters. “The music is full of feeling and it helps the liturgy.”
While pastor of St. Vincent, Bishop Cheri and Sister Joanne Cozzi, D.C., the former principal at St. Vincent de Paul School, led the parish through a successful capital campaign to renovate and expand the school.
“They rebuilt St. Vincent’s,” Gaiters said. “They started a building campaign like we’d never had.”
Bishop Cheri’s leadership skills begin with his ability to listen to others, Deacon Hill said.
Through listening, “he has a knack of finding where the need is and going directly to it,” said Gaiters, who worked with Bishop Cheri as a member of the St. Vincent parish council.
“He’s a strong personality, but he’s very collaborative,” Deacon Hill said. “He’s really a magnet because he can bring people together.”
“He is really wonderful,” Gaiters said of Bishop Cheri. In appointing him a bishop, “the pope knew what he was doing.”