Patrick Clay / Contributing Writer
NEWORLEANS- The St. Peter Claver Catholic Church is preparing to say a final goodbye to longtime pastor and friend Father Michael Jacques, who died of an apparent heart attack last night according to the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Jacques was admitted to the hospital Thursday, and passed away overnight while recovering from several procedures due to chest pains.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the impact of Jacques' passing reaches far beyond St. Peter Claver. 'He was a priest that gave himself to the whole Archdiocese. He's just going to be deeply, deeply missed.'
As a Maine native serving in New Orleans for nearly 30 years, St. Peter Claver parishioners explained that 'Father Mike' gave them a place to call home.
'Personally, he's always been an inspiration, a model, a mentor, a grandfather, and Lord knows what else for me,' said Ajani Gibson, a St. Peter Claver youth ministry leader.
'If I didn't have Father Mike, or if I wasn't given the opportunity that Father Mike gave me, I don't know where I would be today,' Jeremy Tauriac said.
As New Orleans funeral home owner and parishioner Louis Charbonnet explained, Jacques was a huge part of the fabric of the local community for many years.
'He had a mission,' Charbonnet said. 'He put up the new school, the church is beautiful, (and) the congregation is at its highest capacity. We just opened a food bank down the street.'
Jacques found himself in the news after Hurricane Katrina, as he was an architect of the controversial plan to close dozens of parishes in the archdioceses, citing a declining population and priest shortage.
'He knew that there were people in the community that at times didn't appreciate him and the work of his committee because of what they did,' the Archbishop said. 'It was a very painful time as they were having to make those decisions. He certainly felt that personally.'
But Gibson believes Jacques's overall body of work will define his legacy.
'He had hope for this neighborhood even when people didn't have hope that lived here. He's the reason why nothing (here) is ever going to crumble.'
Archbishop Gregory Aymond has confirmed that there will be an evening Vigil Service (wake) for Edmundite Father Michael Jacques on Friday, June 14 at St. Peter Claver Church in New Orleans. Visitation and a funeral Mass will be Saturday, June 15 also at St. Peter Claver. The exact times of the services are pending.