Last January when Chris Charles Scott directed a documentary about five French priests that cared for the sick through the 1873 yellow fever epidemic in Shreveport, Louisiana, he never expected that it would have a spot in this year’s Cannes World Film Festival.
The expectation, Scott said, was a regional and Catholic audience. Although now that the documentary’s reach has extended far beyond those boundaries in both secular and sacred spaces, he recognizes the timing of its November premier was pivotal.
“We were [filming] smack dab in the middle of our own pandemic and seeing how we are in hopefully the last stages of this disease; a lot of people’s priorities were realigned; a lot of people’s paths were reshaped and I think that’s why people resonate with this story,” Scott told Crux. “This is a timeless tale of what God’s people do when bad things happen.”
The documentary is the culmination of years of work by three Shreveport Catholics to spread the story of the five priest’s sacrifice and get them on the path to sainthood. The five priests – Fathers Jean Pierre, Isidore A. Quémerais, Jean-Marie Biler, Louis Gergaud and François Le Vézouët – became Servants of God in December 2020.
As history tells it, between late August to mid-November of 1873 Shreveport lost a quarter of its population to yellow fever. The mosquito-borne disease causes fever, nausea, and muscle pains and can lead to liver and kidney failure.
While many people fled Shreveport for safety, Pierre and Quémerais, who were assigned to the northern Louisiana city, stayed to care for the victims. Biler, who was a chaplain at a local convent, also stayed in the city. Pierre and Quémerais contracted yellow fever and died. When Biler came down with the illness, he contacted Gergaud – a priest from a nearby town – who arrived in time to give Biler last rites. However, Gergaud, too, quickly succumbed to the virus. Hearing about the desperate situation, Le Vézouët then left Natchitoches – then the seat of the diocese – to travel to Shreveport and minister to the sick and dying. He also, quickly contracted the disease and died.
The five priests are all from Brittany, France. They were recruited to come to the United States by Bishop Auguste Marie Martin, the founding bishop of what is now the Diocese of Shreveport….
The above comes from a Jan. 7 story in Crux.