The chalice used by the Rev. Verbis Lafleur is on the altar at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Ville Platte. Lafleur, who received the three Sacraments of Initiation at Sacred Heart, died while he was a Japanese prisoner of war in World II. (Photo by Raymond Partsch III/Ville Platte Gazette)
Chalice used by priest who died in WWII returns home
By Tony Marks
Ville Platte Gazette
VILLE PLATTE — A novena published in 2006 with ecclesiastical approbation from Bishop Michael Jarrell of the Diocese of Lafayette begins with the following: “O, God of Goodness, You never tire of sending us examples of Your love. You called Your servant Father Verbis Lafleur to the Priesthood from an early age and kept him in Your sight. In the fulfillment of time, he willingly offered up his life for his God and his country.”
Seventy-two years after his death aboard a prisoner of war ship, Lafleur’s chalice that he used daily to consecrate the water and wine into the Blood of Christ has come home to Ville Platte and now rests at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. The church plans to use it on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and other solemnities.
The Rev. Tom Voorhies, pastor at Sacred Heart, said, “A priest’s chalice is kind of like a wedding ring is to a married person,” he said. “It’s a sign of their commitment. So every priest has his own personal chalice, and as a sign of his ordination which is his marriage to the Church, the Bride of Christ because we stand in for Jesus our Lord.”
Lafleur received his chalice when he was ordained on April 2, 1938, at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Lafayette. He was the fourth of eight children born to Valentine Lafleur and Agatha Dupre and received the three Sacraments of Initiation as well as First Confession at Sacred Heart. His family moved to Opelousas when he was 14 years old and became parishioners of St. Landry Church where he celebrated his first solemn mass three days after his ordination.
He served as a priest at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Abbeville before he felt the call to join the United State Army roughly six months before the U.S. entered World War II. His first assignment was in Albuquerque, N.M., before being reassigned to Clark Field in the Philippines. The Japanese attacked the field on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after they had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Lafleur was eventually captured and became a prisoner of war with stays at Davao and Lasang.
More than two years passed by before he, along with 700 other prisoners, were being transported by ship from an airfield in the jungle to another Japanese occupied island. This ship was struck by an U.S. Armed Forces torpedo and began to sink. Lafleur began pushing his fellow prisoners through the hatch to safety risking his own life as the ship began to sink.
Lafleur perished with the ship Sept. 7, 1944.
“So apparently he didn’t bring his chalice with him when he went to war,” said Voorhies while displaying Lafleur’s chalice and telling the story on a Friday afternoon inside his office. “So he probably left it with a family member, and then his nephew Wilfred Sylvester became a priest (on May 10, 1952), so he had the chalice.”
Sylvester kept the chalice and then gave it to a seminarian from Illinois named Carl Beekman who came to Eunice after serving in the U.S. Marines. Beekman then returned to his home Diocese of Rockford where he was ordained May 20, 2000, and took Lafleur’s chalice with him.
Voorhies said, “Carl had stayed with me when he was a seminarian one summer when I was the pastor in Delcambre, and so that’s how I knew him.”
Upon hearing the story of the chalice from Lafleur’s nephew Richard Lafleur, Voorhies called Beekman.
“I called Carl and talked with him just to reestablish communication with him because we hadn’t talked in a long time,” Voorhies said. “I think towards the end of that conversation he said like ‘Do you want me to give that chalice back?’ and I said ‘No, I’m just calling to say hi and get reacquainted.’”
Beekman decided to go ahead and send the chalice back to Sacred Heart anyway.
“He really felt like he should give it back to the diocese for a possible canonization process,” Voorhies said. “It would be a valued piece of memorabilia of Father Verbis’ priestly life and a relic if he becomes canonized.”
Voorhies said, “Bishop (Douglas) Deshotel is open to continuing the process, and so things are looking good for his canonization process.”
He then explained the two processes for Lafleur to become a saint.
“The bishop has to open up his own investigation in the Diocese of Lafayette, and once that is completed, then he can present it to Rome. The pope would then have to declare him a person of virtue, then venerable, then beatified. Then you would need a miracle for beatification and then another miracle for canonization. Or if the pope should say that he was a martyr for charity and for the faith, then the pope could dispense with the need for any miracles and just say he’s a saint.”
Bishop Jarrell may have already laid the ground work for such an effort.
The same year Jarrell gave his ecclesiastical approbation he also gave a Prayer of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in honor of Lafleur which, in part, goes, “We ask that the whole Church can know him and be inspired by his priesthood and victim-hood to follow You more intensely in a loving example. May Father Lafleur be declared a ‘Servant of God’. May he be Beautified and raised to the Altar of Sainthood.”