|Father Ferd Cheri, O.F.M., carries the book of Gospels as he celebrated a Mass to mark the 20th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in 1998 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville where he served as pastor from 1996-2002. Father Cheri will be ordained an auxiliary bishop of New Orleans on March 23, 2015. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio|
WASHINGTON. Pope Francis has named Franciscan Father Fernand “Ferd” Cheri III, a New Orleans native who served as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Nashville from 1996-2002 as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The appointment was announced Jan. 12 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Father Cheri is currently director of campus ministry at Quincy University in Illinois.
Even though Father Cheri left Nashville over a decade ago, he is still remembered fondly by St. Vincent parishioners, and still maintains ties to the parish. Deacon Bill Hill of St. Vincent said that when a young man in the parish was dying of brain cancer last year, Father Cheri drove six hours to visit with him and his family before driving back to Illinois to oversee his duties there. “He is very pastoral and caring,” Deacon Hill said of Father Cheri.
“We’re happy, elated and proud” that Father Cheri has been named a bishop, Deacon Hill said.
During his time at St. Vincent, Father Cheri, along with Sister Joanne Cozzi, D.C., spearheaded a successful effort to build a new St. Vincent School, and ushered in a thriving era of the Diocese of Nashville’s only remaining historically African-American parish.
Deacon Hill remembers Father Cheri as “someone with a vision, who knew where he wanted to go,” but also as someone who was willing to collaborate with lay parish leaders and listen to their concerns.
Passionate about liturgical music and continuing education, Father Cheri encouraged, and funded, St. Vincent parish leaders to attend workshops and receive further training in their ministries. “For the first time, we had professionally trained people heading ministries. We were really rolling back then,” said Deacon Hill, who first came to St. Vincent de Paul School as a student in 1955.
The school closed in 2009.
Bishop-designate Cheri, who turns 63 on Jan. 28, has a background that includes extensive roles in black Catholic liturgy, music and spirituality, and has served on the Franciscans’ provincial council and as their director of friar life.
He also is a board member of the National Black Catholic Congress and has been involved in activities including the NBCC gatherings, the U.S. bishops’ subcommittee on Black Catholic worship and the National Joint Conference of Black Religious Planning Committee.
|Bishop-designate Fernand “Ferd” Cheri III, a Franciscan, gestures alongside Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans during a press conference Jan. 12. The appointment of the New Orleans native as auxiliary bishop of his home archdiocese was announced earlier in the day. CNS photo/Frank J Methe, Clarion Herald|
Bishop-designate Cheri originally was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans May 20, 1978. He studied at Notre Dame University and at the Institute for Black Catholic Ministry at Xavier University, both in New Orleans. “He’s proud of his heritage as a black man and as a New Orleanian,” Deacon Hill said.
During a news conference in New Orleans after his appointment was announced, Bishop-designate Cheri said he never truly left his hometown and was surprised but thrilled that Pope Francis had appointed him as auxiliary bishop in the city where most of his family still lives. He said he is pleased that he will be working alongside Archbishop Gregory V. Aymond.
“I’d like to say first of all thank you to Pope Francis for appointing me to this position,” he said.
“It was a total surprise, but it was a wonderful moment to just be told that I was appointed auxiliary bishop,” added Bishop-designate Cheri. “I also want to thank Greg for accepting me in this position as well. I look forward to just working with the people of New Orleans again. I never left New Orleans. It’s always a part of me. Wherever I go, I bring New Orleans. It’s going to be great to be back in the city.”
Bishop-designate Cheri will be ordained bishop at a Mass at 2 p.m. Monday, March 23, at St. Louis Cathedral. Deacon Hill plans to travel to New Orleans to attend the ordination Mass, and is looking for others from Nashville who want to make the trip.
“He is very gifted in music and preaching and liturgy,” Archbishop Aymond said. “This is also a very significant moment, I think, for us as New Orleans (Catholics) – another hometown boy joining us again. But also a great gift from the African-American community to the church and to the archdiocese.”
As a diocesan priest for four years at four parishes in New Orleans and Marrero, Louisiana, Bishop-designate Cheri was involved in ministry in the black Catholic community. It was at that time that he began discernment in becoming a Franciscan.
“A lot of my support at that time was from the religious communities that were primarily staffing parishes in the black community of New Orleans,” he said.
“I got used to that. I said, ‘Well, if I’m getting support from them, I might as well be a religious.’ Being a diocesan priest for me was very lonely. I grew up with a family and bouncing things off of other people. I needed that support. I received a lot of that from the religious communities of New Orleans.”
He entered the novitiate for the Order of Friars Minor, in the Sacred Heart Province, based in St. Louis in 1992 and made his solemn profession as a Franciscan two years later. Since then he has served as a chaplain at Hales Franciscan High School in Chicago and then as pastor of St. Vincent.
He also served as a choir director and guidance counselor at Althoff Catholic High in Belleville, Ill., while part of a contingent that launched St. Benedict the Black Friary in East St. Louis, an outreach to the poor, African-American community.
Prior to beginning his position at Quincy University in 2011, he was director of campus ministry at Xavier University. In addition to his post at Quincy, he is vicar of Holy Cross Friary, located on the campus.
According to his biography on the NBCC website, he created youth gospel choirs in several places, began the Black Saints Celebrations for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and is convener and facilitator of Go Down Moses Retreats for African American Catholic Young Men.
The New Orleans Archdiocese has had no auxiliary bishops since Bishop Shelton J. Fabre was named in 2013 to become bishop of Houma-Thibodaux. Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Carmon retired in 2006.
Contributing to this story was Peter Finney Jr. in New Orleans and Theresa Laurence in Nashville.