Preaching Christ’s Message Of Giving
Nativity’s Father Ed Duhon On Supporting Others
By Barbara Gautreaux
Father Edward J. Duhon Jr. became the new pastor of Nativity of Our Lady Catholic Church in New Iberia this past summer. At 38 years old, Duhon has been an ordained priest for five years. He is friendly, laughs easily and is eager to learn all he can about his new congregation and the city he will call home for years to come.
Duhon gives credit to his family, especially his parents, the late Edward and Dorphi Duhon, for teaching him by example what it means to be unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others. In Duhon’s word—altruistic.
The opposite of being self-centered, altruistic is charitable, generous, philanthropic, benevolent and unselfish. It can be used to describe the Duhons of the past, and pastor Father Duhon also.
Becoming a giving person is something Duhon describes as not only difficult but extremely rewarding, and the foundation of the teachings of Christ.
During this most giving time of the year, Duhon says choosing to be the person that thinks of others first can not only enhance society, it can also be an opportunity for grace.
Church Celebrating 50 Years
Duhon, or Father Ed as he is called by students and coworkers, says he has been blessed to now be the pastor of Nativity and its 1,300 families. He comes to New Iberia from Sacred Heart in Broussard, where he served as their associate pastor for two years. Three years before that he was stationed in Eunice. “Nativity is a hidden jewel of the diocese. I am so grateful to be assigned here. The staff, the parishioners, everyone has been so kind and patient.”
Nativity is located at 130 North Richelieu Circle, near the northern border of Iberia Parish. The office staff consists of three employees, and Brenda Romero is the Director of Religious Education, providing Catholic education from the classrooms of Barsen Hall. “The catechism classes at Nativity serve 233 students in grades 1st-11th. It is an extensive program, almost another school that we operate,” says Duhon. Classes are held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the school year, served by 24 volunteer teachers. Romero says Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (the RCIA program for those seeking confirmation or baptism in the Catholic Church) is available Monday nights.
Father Mike Arnaud was the former pastor of Nativity and he is now serving at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Mire.
Nativity of Our Lady Church was the dream of Monsignor Herman J. Barsen, established in New Iberia in 1963. The church will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. Duhon says he sees his new parishioners as having a strong historic tie to their church. “The founding families of this parish are still here. That is very rare for Catholic Churches in this area.” Duhon appreciates the dedication that went into building a church, and hearing the stories of how it was accomplished.
“Pastors don’t often get to meet the actual founding members of a Catholic Church, especially in South Louisiana where churches were formed more than a hundred years ago. So this is really amazing to meet the people who served at the temporary warehouse on Jane Street, or those that knew Father Barsen when he started the parish, and to hear the stories of how he got the land.” Father Barsen died in 2005 at age 91.
Duhon says that Nativity’s main worship building was created with a modern style of architecture, popular in the late 60s and early 70s. The tremendous roof is a symbol of the Christian Church’s earliest followers. “Father Barsen wanted the building to resemble a Bedouin tent; a tent used by the people that lived in the Holy Land where Jesus lived. Bedouin tents would have a main center pole in the middle, stretching the canvas at the top.”
Connecting a congregation to the ancient church in the Holy Land helps to focus believers on Christ’s teachings that resonate throughout the centuries. Father Duhon himself has felt this connection when he traveled to the Holy Land in 1998 and in 2011. He says these pilgrimages brought him to such historic places as the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the Sinai Desert.
“It fleshes your faith and brings it to life—this is where Jesus was crucified—this is where He was laid in the tomb. I was able to lead Mass in the location where Jesus was laid in the tomb,” says Duhon. “That was such a heavenly experience for me. I have only been ordained for five years and I feel so blessed to have traveled to those places.”
He says a pilgrimage is different from a personal vacation to a well-known location. “You definitely have a goal; you want to grow closer to Jesus through the people that you meet and the places that you go. You study on the past; you learn about who founded the church, and more. I encourage anyone to go to the Holy Land to experience all those things.”
In November, Duhon participated in a more local, two-day pilgrimage to New Orleans with 8th-grade students from Catholic High School, teaching the next generation to grow closer to Christ’s message of giving.
To Be A Giving Person
How did Duhon choose a life of serving both his church and his fellow man? His family, his education and his wanting to be different set the stage for giving and serving. “When I was young, I had my parents as a model and I just didn’t go with the flow.” Having friends that were interested in the same type of giving lifestyle helped him. “I wasn’t as distracted by the materialist world. My friends had the same mindset as me and that also helped me to be a serving person,” says Duhon.
At 14, Duhon began to feel that God was calling him from among men to serve his people. The Bible has several stories about people called by God to serve, who were scared or reluctant to serve. “I didn’t like it then, that is the last thing you want to do that age,” he says. Duhon is quick to point out that as a human he is, of course, sometimes selfish. “To serve one another is not just my job but who I am. It is my calling.”
Duhon says for him, several components came together to create a life of service. “My family, they were very altruistic.” He remembers as a child, a neighbor’s house burned, and his mother gave the neighbor clothes and food for herself and her children. “My parents were great examples. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, so just to see my Mom and Dad focus their entire energies on their family was a great example. My dad going to work—slaving, and my mom slaving at home, just doing the best they could for their family.”
Duhon says no person is immune from wanting materialist things, and human nature is for self-preservation. “It is difficult to serve others, serving is a burden,” he says. “To give you have to will it. You have to have discipline about it.”
To be able to give to others, Duhon says one must be sustained by attending church and realizing that society is all in this together—families, communities and the entire world. A materialistic society might think of a spouse and children as a chore instead of an opportunity, with day-to-day obligations getting in the way of a lifestyle focused on temporary pleasures. “Marriage is supposed to be about procreation of children and making sure that society continues. When people focus on themselves, what should be important becomes mixed up.”
His message is that it is critical to attend church, to pray and worship. “It is so sustaining to come to church every week. It is necessary, just like prayer. God is not some peripheral role figure in your life. God is not in the trunk, He is the co-pilot sitting next to you. For you to go to church is the most important thing that you do during the week.
“That statement is a foreign thing for so many people. To have God and church the center of your week, not something that you hurry up and go to.” Duhon says weekend extracurricular activities can strengthen the bond and enrich the family; however he continually refocuses on what is important for a life of giving.
“What more strengthens the bond of the family than the person who brought the family together? God’s strength and gifts are needed by the family.”
Duhon personally has an older brother and two sisters. He graduated from UL Lafayette with an Architecture Degree. He does not have a degree in counseling or psychology. This doesn’t stop him from providing counseling services to many in and around Nativity. “Most of my job is listening and it does help. I sit them down and listen to their story and that helps them tremendously.”
“Remember, we are not alone. We are one planet, one in Christ and we are all called to support each other,” says Duhon.