By Joe Bukuras
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2021 / 10:44 am
The US bishops voted Thursday that they consider it opportune to advance two causes of canonization, for Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur, a World War II military chaplain, and for Marinus (Leonard) LaRue, a merchant mariner who became a Benedictine monk.
Both causes were regarded as opportune by 99 percent of voting bishops in June 17 votes at the USCCB spring general assembly.
“It was something I would have never thought would have happened in my lifetime,” said Carrol Lafleur, the wife of Father Lafleur’s nephew, Richard. “I had always hoped that my children would have gotten to see it. But for Richard and I [sic] to actually see it, see it in progress, and to have people want to know about Fr. Lafleur is just beyond words.”
Fr. Lafleur is most remembered for his heroic service during World War II.
He was born Jan. 24, 1912 in Ville Platte, Louisiana. During his summer breaks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Lafleur would spend his time teaching catechism and first communicants.
He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lafayette April 2, 1938 and requested to be a military chaplain, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially, his request was denied, but when the priest asked a second time, it was granted.
Carrol told CNA Fr. Lafleur wished to accompany the drafted men who had no choice but to fight in the war.
He was deployed to the Philippines, and spent two and a half years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.
“Fr. Lafleur did a lot of work in the prison camps as well,” said nephew Richard Lafleur. “He gave his own food when they were starving to death.”
Richard Lafleur told CNA that men in the camps with Fr. Lafleur testified that his character caused the conversion of about 200 men to Catholicism while in the prison camp.
Fr. Lafleur earned the Distinguished Service Cross for Valor, and he ended up on a ship with other Japanese POWs that was torpedoed, unwittingly, by an American submarine that did not realize the ship was carrying POWs.
He was last seen Sept. 7, 1944 helping men out of the hull of the sinking ship, for which he posthumously earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, and a second Distinguished Service Cross for his acts as a POW.
Of the hundreds of prisoners on the ship, 82 survived, according to Fr. Lafleur’s nephew. Each surviving man came back to the United States telling stories about Fr. Lafleur’s heroic actions of leadership, sacrifice, and courage amid the prisoners’ conditions.
Fr. Lafleur’s body was never found, but a shrine and monument exist at St. Landry Catholic Church, where he grew up. Each year Mass is celebrated in honor of his life around the date of his death.
Bishop Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette opened Fr. Lafleur’s cause for canonization Sept. 5, 2020.
Fr. Lafleur was recognized in a keynote to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2017, by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese, who said: “He was a man for others right to the end… Father Lafleur responded to his POW situation with creative courage. He drew on his virtue to care for, protect, and fortify the men imprisoned with him.”
“Many survived because he was a man of virtue who gave unstintingly of himself. To speak of the greatness of our country is to speak of men and women of virtue who gave of themselves for the benefit of all. We build for a new tomorrow when we draw from that wellspring of virtue.”
Brother Marinus LaRue was also involved in military efforts during an American war.
Born Jan. 14, 1914, LaRue attended the Pennsylvania Nautical School. After his graduation in 1934, he served as the U.S. Merchant Marine Captain of the SS Meredith Victory during the Korean War.
LaRue was tasked with delivering military supplies to a port in Hungnam, North Korea, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers and refugees were searching for safety from advancing communist forces.
Arriving before Christmas, LaRue came to discover the multitudes of people who were awaiting help. LaRue chose to unload almost all of the ship’s weapons and supplies, in order to provide space for as many refugees as possible on the ship.
The USS Meredith Victory, which was designed to serve around 50 passengers, sailed away from the coast with approximately 14,000 refugees.
Father Pawel Tomczyk, postulator for LaRue’s the canonization cause said, “the fact that he was able to rescue so many without losing a single life” was inspiring.
LaRue later discerned a religious vocation and entered St. Paul’s Benedictine Abbey in Newton, New Jersey in 1954, taking the name Brother Marinus in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Brother Marinus lived a humble life, dishwashing, working in a gift shop, and serving his brother monks.
“This is the uniqueness of this cause in that he was one man but almost had two lives,” Fr. Tomczyk told CNA. “He combines the two vocations: One as a lay person, as a successful captain of a ship, and then the latter part of his life as a religious monk-as a Benedictine, a man of prayer and simplicity.”
Brother Marinus died Oct. 14, 2001. Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson issued a decree opening Brother Marinus’ cause March 25, 20
Photo: Fr. Joseph Lafleur, whose cause of canonization is one of those that will be considered at the USCCB Spring General Assembly, June 17, 2021. Credit: Andrepont Printing.