“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations” (Sirach 44:1).
The three men that I am writing about would all laugh at being called “famous” or “great,” but indeed they were, each in his own way. I am referring to Fr. Harold Cohen, SJ, Fr. Emile Lafranz and Msgr. Robert Guste. I am singling them out because of their reputation as spiritual leaders in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and beyond, for their impact on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and for my personal relationship with them and their influence on my life and the lives of countless others.
Fr. Cohen was called home to the Lord in 2001, almost 20 years ago. Fr. Lafranz passed over into eternity in 1995, 25 years ago this year. Msgr. Guste went to his eternal reward in 2010, ten years ago. I knew each of them rather well and each was a father, brother, and friend to me. As CCRNO has now passed its golden jubilee mark, I would like to say a few words to remember and honor these “famous men.”
FR. EMILE LAFRANZ
I first met Fr. Lafranz when I was at Notre Dame Seminary in the mid-sixties. He was a young, zealous, dynamic priest and was appointed to serve as a spiritual director for the Seminary. When I was sent to the University of Iowa for doctoral studies in 1968 and encountered the fledgling “Catholic Pentecostal Movement,” (as it was known back then), Fr. Lafranz was one of the first priests I wrote to about it, figuring he might be interested.
But instead he was somewhat amused by it and used to call me a “holy roller.” “That’s your thing,” he would always say, indicating that it definitely wasn’t “his thing!” Well, we know that it eventually became “his thing,” too. He not only embraced the Catholic Charismatic Renewal but became one of its leaders locally, regionally, and nationally. He founded the Center of Jesus the Lord in 1975, which still continues to this day at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in New Orleans.
Fr. Lafranz was very good and generous to me. He made it possible for me to accompany him to Rome and Medjugorje. He used to affirm me and encourage my gifts – as he did for so many people. He was greatly used by the Lord in ministry and always strived for holiness of life. May his memory be held in honor!
FR. HAROLD COHEN, SJ
I first met Fr. Cohen in April 1969 at the Third International Catholic Pentecostal Convention at the University of Notre Dame. One year later, in August 1970, Fr. Cohen asked me to join him in working with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the New Orleans area (CCRNO) and we worked together over 30 years.
Fr. Cohen was prompted by the Lord to start the Renewal in New Orleans and, since he spoke Spanish, he became an “apostle” to bring the good news of Baptism in the Spirit to many countries in Central and South America. His ministry expanded widely and eventually developed into Closer Walk Ministries on radio and television.
When Fr. Cohen invited me to partner with him in ministry, he thereby set the course of my entire future life. He also invited Patti Gallagher to move to New Orleans and, I think, had a sense that she and I would eventually end up together!
He witnessed our marriage, baptized our children and gave them their First Holy Communion. He was like a member of our family and we were together for countless Masses and gatherings, even up to a few days before he passed over to the Lord. Fr. Cohen radiated God’s love and mercy, attracting both young and old to the Lord.
MSGR. ROBERT GUSTE
Msgr. Guste had a well-deserved reputation for being a very spiritual priest, open to the different ways the Holy Spirit might be working. I remember Deacon Abner and Kathleen Fandal relating how they served with a young Fr. Guste in various movements in the Church back in the 1950s and 1960s.
When the Catholic Charismatic Renewal came along, Msgr. Guste hopped on board. He was a gifted preacher and confessor and had his own radio show, “Living Waters,” for a number of years on WVOG. At times, in the midst of preaching, he would even sing or play a tune on his trumpet!
Msgr. Guste had a heart for ministering to African-American Catholics and pastored a predominantly Black parish in the inner city of New Orleans. I personally appreciated his pastoral guidance as a confessor and spiritual director for the last nine years of his life on earth. When he was hospitalized during his final illness, he left a voice-mail message on my phone which remained there for many years afterward because I couldn’t quite bring myself to erase it.
“BEHOLD A GREAT PRIEST” – IN THIS CASE, THREE GREAT PRIESTS!
What did these three “famous” priests have in common? I would say, a “heart for God,” a burning desire to love God and make Him loved! Each one was a very “priestly priest.” In my lifetime I have known a multitude of priests and these three were among the very finest by any standard! They set the bar extremely high.
Were they absolutely perfect in every way? No – and each one was humble enough to say that (and I heard each say it on many occasions). In fact, they had some differences of opinion and disagreements among themselves at times. But above all, they kept unfailing the bond of charity, respect and brotherhood.
I will admit, as much as I loved and respected them, there were also times of “strain” in my relationship with each priest that had to be worked out. But hey, even great Apostles and saints have also had to do that, so why should we expect to be any different?
In the final analysis, I would be the first to apply this verse to each of these famous men: “Behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God.” Thanks be to God for Fr. Emile Lafranz, Fr. Harold Cohen, SJ, and Msgr. Robert Guste! May they receive glory in heaven and honor upon earth!