Franciscan Father Ferd Cheri named auxiliary bishop

Saying he never truly left his hometown, Franciscan Father Fernand “Ferd” Cheri, director of campus ministry at Quincy University in Illinois, said Jan. 12 he was surprised but thrilled that Pope Francis had appointed him as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, where most of his family still lives.

“I’d like to say first of all thank you to Pope Francis for appointing me to this position,” said Bishop-designate Cheri, whose appointment was announced in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. He will serve with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

“It was a total surprise, but it was a wonderful moment to just be told that I was appointed auxiliary bishop,” added Bishop-designate Cheri, who will turn 63 Jan. 28. “I also want to thank Greg for accepting me in this position as well. I look forward to just working with the people of New Orleans again. I never left New Orleans. It’s always a part of me. Wherever I go, I bring New Orleans. It’s going to be great to be back in the city.”

Ordination set for March 23 at cathedral

Bishop-designate Cheri, who will be ordained bishop at a Mass March 23 at 2 p.m. at St. Louis Cathedral, has a background that includes extensive roles in black Catholic liturgy, music and spirituality, in addition to having served on the Franciscans’ provincial council and as their director of friar life.

He originally was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans May 20, 1978. He studied at Notre Dame Seminary and at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, both in New Orleans.

“He is very gifted in music and preaching and liturgy,” Archbishop Aymond said. “This is also a very significant moment, I think, for us as New Orleans (Catholics) – another hometown boy joining us again. But also a great gift from the African-American community to the church and to the archdiocese.”

After serving as a priest at four parishes in New Orleans and Marrero, Louisiana, in 1992 he entered the novitiate for the Order of Friars Minor, in the Sacred Heart Province, based in St. Louis. Bishop-designate Cheri made his solemn profession as a Franciscan in 1994.

“I was a diocesan priest, and I was very involved in ministry in the black community,” Bishop-designate Cheri said, explaining his three-year discernment in becoming a Franciscan. “A lot of my support at that time was from the religious communities that were primarily staffing parishes in the black community of New Orleans.

“I got used to that. I said, ‘Well, if I’m getting support from them, I might as well be a religious.’ Being a diocesan priest for me was very lonely. I grew up with a family and bouncing things off of other people. I needed that support. I received a lot of that from the religious communities of New Orleans.”

Bishop-designate Cheri said even while he was living away from New Orleans, he remained connected to New Orleans and the challenges it has endured rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I had 30 family households – 30 family groups that lost their homes in New Orleans,” he said. “And when you have that many people, you can’t help anybody because you don’t have that kind of money to assist anyone. It was real, real difficult for me to handle it from afar. I concentrated most of my energy on my mother and my siblings, and then I watched as things happened in the city, seeing what was lost and how many people lost their lives and their homes. It was real traumatic. As someone who loves the city, it was very difficult.”

Bishop-designate Cheri said he organized teams of students from Quincy University to provide annual cleanup and repairs in New Orleans. Last year, 50 students made the mission trip.

Since becoming a Franciscan, he has served as a chaplain at Hales Franciscan High School in Chicago and as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He served as a choir director and guidance counselor at Althoff Catholic High in Belleville, Illinois, while part of a contingent that launched St. Benedict the Black Friary in East St. Louis, an outreach to the poor, African-American community.

Prior to beginning his position at Quincy University in 2011, he was director of campus ministry at Xavier University in New Orleans. In addition to his post at Quincy, he is vicar of Holy Cross Friary, located on the campus.
Bishop-designate Cheri also is a board member of the National Black Catholic Congress and has been involved in activities including the NBCC gatherings, the U.S. bishops’ subcommittee on Black Catholic worship and the National Joint Conference of Black Religious Planning Committee.

According to his biography on the NBCC web site, he created youth gospel choirs in several places, began the Black Saints Celebrations for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and is convener and facilitator of Go Down Moses Retreats for African American Catholic Young Men.
The New Orleans Archdiocese has had no auxiliary bishops since Bishop Shelton J. Fabre was named in 2013 to become bishop of Houma-Thibodaux. Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Carmon retired in 2006.

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