Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Father Jack Broussard

Father Broussard and myself on my fourth birthday
This post is part of a series on Father Jack Broussard, a very unusual priest who worked in southeast Texas during the last half of the 20th century.  The series not only talks about his life, but the society in which he lived.

I was in London with a case of the flu last week when my family back home in Houston told me that Father Jack Broussard had passed away.  I shortened my trip by a few days and came back home so that I could drive my elderly parents to the wake being held in Manvel, Texas.

Father Jack as many called him, was an amazing guy.  He was so amazing that this blog is going to devote a number of posts to his life and accomplishments.

These posts will not be about religion or Catholicism.  He may have been a priest - but his impact went much much further than his local parish.   He was not famous.  He didn't preach in a megachurch. He wasn't great at getting millions of dollars in donations.   He was just a good guy with a spectacular sense of humor; lots of humility; and even more curiosity.

He was born John S. Broussard in 1919.  His father Robert was from a family that owned a plantation in New Iberia, LA.   Robert was working for a congressman in Washington when he met Jack's mother, Margaret (who was the daughter of a congressman).  Robert was Louisiana French.  Margaret was Irish.  Robert invented the first coin operated parking meter.  He also invented batteries and any number of things.  Sometime during Jack's childhood the family moved to Houston. They lived an affluent life and had a home in River Oaks. At one point during Father Jack's adolescence his father had him take golf lessons from someone really famous.  I wish I could remember the name of the person who taught him.  (perhaps I could look up what famous golfers were living in Houston during the 1930s).  He attended St. Thomas High School and came to know some priests from the Order of St. Basil.  During his senior year he decided to become a priest.  The mother house of the Order was in Toronto, so he spent lots of time in Canada the next few years and ended up back in the Houston area ten years later.

In the 1930s, in a moment of significant social awareness, the Order of St. Basil decided to start a number of what they called "missions" in small cities southwest of Houston.  The superiors were concerned that the Mexican population of these small towns did not have access to priestly care.  The truth was that most of the churches did not allow Mexicans inside.  If they did, they were treated badly.  In one archival record I found at the Basilian library in Toronto, I found a story about a Mexican man knocking on the door of the rectory of Sacred Catholic Church in Richmond, Texas.  The priest who opened the door met the man with a gun and threatened to call the Sheriff.

Father Jack, or JB as my family came to call him, was already a good friend of my father's by the time I was born.  JB arrived in Rosenberg a couple of years before my parents moved there from San Antonio in 1950.  I can honestly say that I probably saw JB just about every day of my life until I finished high school.  He would often come by our house, or I would go with my father to the rectory and we would sit in the living room and talk.  They would frequently go on trips to Houston (30 miles away) and I would accompany them.  I think that besides my parents, JB was the most influential adult in my life.  I think his presence strongly affected the development of my character and intellect.

In the following posts on JB I will tell about his life, his adventures, and his importance to thousands of people who came to know him during his 62 years as a priest.

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