Bishop’s mom will be there, probably tearing up
If, as St. Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of God, there is absolutely nothing, God willing, that will keep Gladys Cheri, the matriarch of the Cheri family, from her place of honor inside St. Louis Cathedral on March 23 for the ordination of her son, Franciscan Father Ferd Cheri III, to the episcopacy.
“Oh, yes, I’m going to try,” she said recently from her ninth-floor room at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, where she was recuperating from a broken right hip. “If they have a bed, I’m going to be there.”
For Gladys, 87, the fall was her second mishap in a month. On Jan. 7 – just five days before her son was announced as the new auxiliary bishop of New Orleans – she fell inside her home in Gentilly and broke her right arm.
Then, last month, she tripped in the house again and broke her hip. She spent several weeks rehabbing at East Jefferson before finally going home two weeks ago.
“I’m feeling much better than I had been feeling,” Gladys said. “I’m moving better, so I hope I can hold on.”
“Oh, she’s going to be there,” said her daughter, Marvell Cheri Baudy, smiling.
A great get-well message
Gladys was nursing her broken arm when her son told her on Jan. 12 that he would be the next auxiliary bishop of New Orleans.
“I said, ‘That’s so nice, Ferd. That’s something you always wanted, and I’m glad that it’s finally here,” she said. “I didn’t overjoy. I didn’t say anything too fast. I wanted to wait a few days and see, because I know they can change their minds. Today, tomorrow, can be something different.”
Nothing changed. Her son, who used to sing with her in their house, is going to be a bishop.
“I’m very proud of him because he worked very hard for that,” Gladys said.
Ferd was the first boy among Gladys and Fernand Cheri Jr.’s seven children. Gladys had three girls first, and her son was bubbly and easygoing from the beginning.
“Ferd is a very thoughtful, humble and patient person,” Gladys said. “He is always pleasant, always making you laugh. He’s a jolly person. He was a good boy, he really was. He played football and basketball and things like that, but he loved to be with the youth. That was his goal in life.”
The three boys of the family – Ferd, Richard and Kevin – came in succession, and they were always close, and not just in age. Gladys said Ferd’s love of singing rubbed off on his two younger brothers, and they would spend hours listening to and then singing spirituals inside the family home.
“He really does love to sing,” Gladys said. “In fact, the whole family does. Even at night, when they would say their prayers, we’d make them sing.”
When Richard, her second son, began directing various church choirs, Gladys joined the groups along with some of her daughters.
‘Blend in or blend out’
“I always liked to sing, but I didn’t have a voice like my boys did,” Gladys said. “But I tried. I told them, ‘If it doesn’t sound right, tell me to move out.’ Either blend in or blend out. I was never a songbird, but I always loved to sing. I think I took after my mother, because she used to sing when she’d be hanging clothes on the line. We’d sit on the porch and just laugh.”
When the Cheri family came to church in their Sunday best, Fernand Jr. would lead the way, followed by his entire family.
“We stuck together,” Gladys said. “They used to laugh at us when we would walk into church because on Sunday morning, Daddy would be first, I would be second and then all the children. People knew this so they kept an empty pew for the family. My husband helped me raise them in the Catholic faith and keep them together.”
Fernand Jr. was a postal carrier, which did not bring with it a large salary, but the Cheri family always seemed to have exactly what it needed. Both Gladys and her husband worked other jobs to make ends meet – Fernand Jr. did maintenance work at St. Mary’s Academy, and Gladys cooked for the Sisters of the Holy Family.
“People always ask how I did it and what caused our children to turn out the way they did,” Gladys said. “I told them, ‘This is what they wanted.’ I always told my children I would try to give them whatever they wanted, even though I didn’t have the money to do it. I wanted to just keep them together.
“My husband (who died in 1995) was a good person. There was a lot of sacrifice involved in that, like doing without things, without new clothes. We always had food. But new clothes and going places – you just put that on the side. You have to forget about all that.”
Fernand Jr. was well-liked on his mail route. One day he tripped on a neighbor’s front steps while delivering the mail and had to miss work for a few weeks.
“This lady used to call every day, ‘Mr. Cheri, can I bring you a cake?’” Gladys said. “She was afraid he was going to sue her, and she already had nothing. She made him a cake every day until he got better.”
The entire Cheri family, including all 15 nieces and nephews and their children, will be at St. Louis Cathedral for the ordination Mass.
“I’m sure I’ll cry,” Gladys said.
She’ll be in the front row.