For someone who passed the baton to Hank Lauricella when they co-captained the Holy Cross High School track team in 1948 and who as a 70-year-old federal marshal ran two laps around Audubon Park as a protective shield for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Roland P. Fournier admits he’s slowing down just a little bit these days.
“I was kind of skin and bones at Holy Cross, and I played a little freshman football, but I did have the speed,” Fournier said, laughing. “Now, I have to learn to walk.”
The effects of Parkinson’s disease and age may have slowed Fournier’s 100-yard dash, but the parishioner of St. Philip Neri Parish in Metairie, now 85, is both grateful and fulfilled by the handiwork of his woodcarving.
Noah and his animals
Fournier’s avocation has produced a Noah’s ark-full of stunningly lifelike tigers, lions, giraffes, horses and camels for the six children, 24 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren of Fournier and his wife, Pat, of 64 years.
But it is his most recent project – 15 Stations of the Cross hand-carved out of precious South American mahogany – that has Fournier thrilled. Each station, which took about a month, will be hung inside the chapel now under construction at St. Anthony’s Gardens, a continuous-care, residential facility being built in Mandeville adjacent to Most Holy Trinity Church.
The facility, along with the chapel, is expected to open in October.
“It’s a great honor for me to have that put in there – more than you can imagine,” Fournier said.
After high school and service in the Air Force, Fournier was a lieutenant with the New Orleans Police Department for several years, devoting his time to supervising juvenile offenders and trying to help them turn around their lives.
Fournier served as a federal marshal for almost 40 years, with duties ranging from transporting federal prisoners to investigating threats against judges to protecting high-profile jurists when necessary.
Scalia was an avid jogger
It was in that capacity about 15 years ago that required him to jog around the Audubon Park Golf Course with Justice Scalia, in town for a meeting.
“He wanted to jog around Audubon Park, and after he made his first trip, he told me he would like to go around again,” Fournier said. “I wasn’t about to tell him no. I was in my mid-70s, but I was in good running shape. There was a young prosecutor I knew who was throwing the football, and I asked him to come over so I could introduce him to someone. When Justice Scalia saw him throw the football, he asked him, ‘Isn’t this a work day?’”
Fournier didn’t really start working with wood until his Air Force service. His superiors needed wood models of fighter planes and bombers, and Fournier somehow had the ability to translate detailed drawings into 3D objects.
“It was my first experience dealing with curvatures and shapes,” Fournier said. “They were pleased with my work and started sending me loads of plans.”
His woodworking hobby began as a way of stress relief after the workday. He started first with carousel animals – about three-quarters of real size – meticulously matching the direction of the grain so that it was perfect when the various pieces were put together with dowels.
When former Jesuit and LSU baseball star Wally Pontiff Jr. died in his sleep in 2002, Fournier carved a tiger as an auction item to benefit the Wally Pontiff Jr. Foundation. “They got nearly $5,000 for it,” Fournier said. “I was so happy.”
Turning leftovers into art
Fournier said a few years ago, his friend, clarinetist Sal Suer, had a contact with Gueydan Lumber to provide him with leftover South American mahogany for his carvings.
“It’s fine mahogany and beautiful to carve and work with,” Fournier said. “It’s very durable. But the miracle of it was the wood they gave me was exactly the right width and depth. All I had to do was cut the length. How would they have known that was the perfect size wood? God wanted me to have the right size wood.”
Fournier said he has an affinity for St. Louis de Montfort, the 18th century priest who fostered devotion to the rosary by using banners as props to explain each of the 15 mysteries.
“He had his own folk art, which was nothing more than raggedy pieces of rags shaped like a flag which he called his banners,” Fournier said. “He used them at all of his events to show the people what each mystery meant.”
Fournier hopes his Stations of the Cross will spark similar meditation.
“My son-in-law, Pas McGoey, always referred to my work as folk art,” Fournier said. “Then I heard some college professor say that folk art is nothing more than art done at home by an untrained person. Folk art is a nice but very fancy-sounding name. Hopefully, this will help people meditate.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at.