Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s fame believes that every person who crosses your path leaves you with something.
“Hope, encouragement and pride” is what she says New Orleans native Bishop-elect Fernand “Ferd” Cheri, almost 30 years her junior, has left her.
Chase couldn’t have been happier or prouder when Archbishop Gregory Aymond announced that Father Cheri would be the next auxiliary bishop of New Orleans.
“I think he and Archbishop Aymond will make a good team,” Chase said. “They are what we need in leaders in this church. Archbishop Aymond is someone you can really talk to. And, when he suggested Father Cheri, oh…!”
She thinks Father Cheri’s voice will be a good one in the archdiocese.
“He’s young,” Chase said. “He has a vision. He is aggressive. It is just what we needed. He makes you proud of being who you are. He makes people feel their worth, and that’s so important.”
Cheris: A good family
Chase clearly remembers the Cheri family as “good family people.” Her children played with the seven Cheri children, and the young Ferd Cheri always had a sweet personality. He stood out among his siblings.
“He wanted to be a priest even as a young boy,” she said. “I was so proud when he became a priest.”
When he was pastor at St. Francis de Sales in New Orleans, Chase would catch up with him when he dined at Dooky Chase’s. She recalled his building a strong parish youth group there. Chase attributed his success with youth partly from growing up in a big family and knowing how to rouse the best from adolescents.
“I saw Father Cheri do that with children,” Chase said. “He made them feel they were worth something, that no matter how small they were, they could be involved and take part in something.”
Chase saw him as “a doer for others.” He was sincere in his efforts to help and advise people. He stood up and expressed himself as a young adult and encouraged others similarly.
“He was uplifting, doing things to uplift black people all the time, saying what they had to do (to get ahead). It was kind of strange for a young man to do that.”
Chase said he discovered that his spirituality was to work hard and do God’s work on earth, something that St. Francis de Sales parishioners noticed.
“He would do everyday things and the parishioners felt like he was a part of them,” Chase said.
Magnet to others
“I think he can bring people together,” Chase said. “Everybody will like Bishop Cheri. He can relate to all people. You don’t have to agree with him or he doesn’t have to agree with you, but he can talk to people to make people understand that ‘you are who you are, and I am who I am but we can get along.’ If he can do that to uplift black Catholics, I think that will be a wonderful thing.”
She expects that African Americans, especially young ones, will see Bishop-elect Cheri as a role model, attracting more to get involved in the Catholic Church.
“I think he will make them understand that they can be involved, no matter who they are,” she said.
And, if he wins over more people to the Catholic Church and to attend Mass, it will be a huge blessing for our community.
“I’m a big believer in church,” Chase said. “I believe you owe that to God – to make that sacrifice to go to church.”
She believes Bishop-elect Ferd’s actions have proven his love of faith and love of the Catholic Church.
“It’s through your work that you show your faith,” she said. “If your work pleases him, then you better the place where you live. That’s the kind of man Father Cheri is. Just look at his work and see what he’s done. That’s what God intends people to do – just do your work on earth. God did his work while he was here on earth. Just follow him.”
“I’m so happy for his mother, Gladys. She must be so proud,” Chase said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.