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A Pandemic of Violent Attacks on Priests in South Louisiana

The devil is on a rampage in south Louisiana, and our priests need your prayers. 

First, it was the murder of Fr. Otis Young and Ruth Prats on November 28, 2022 in Covington. 

Then, Fr. Jimmy Jeanfreau was killed in freak woodworking accident on November 29 in Marrero.

On May 23, 2023, Fr. Ryan Halford was shot multiple times by his brother in Ponchatoula. 

On July 13, Fr. Stephen Ugwu was attacked by a man wielding a machete in Melville. 

Thankfully, Fr. Ryan and Fr. Stephen both survived.

But only two days ago, on August 2, Fr. Mark Beard was killed in an automobile accident near Amite.  

    From Christendom to Apostolic Mission

    I'm writing this mostly to call attention to this situation. Is this happening everywhere? 

    Are these the labor pains as we pass from Christendom back to Apostolic Mission? From Christendom to Apostolic Mission is an amazing book, by the way. Go buy a copy for your whole parish.  

    This book has been pollinating and percolating through our south Louisiana dioceses -- Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, and Lake Charles -- at a rate commensurate with the violence. 

    Another age of martyrs is already upon us. We just don't realize it. 

    As an attorney, I've represented entire hospitals of people who have been fired or threatened with termination for their religious beliefs. Who would have ever imagined that basic biological identification would have been fire-able offense at a hospital? 

    "God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines"

    This quote is often attributed to St. Teresa of Avila: 

    God writes straight with crooked lines.

    The great movements in our lives -- in all of human history, for that matter -- very rarely follow a straight course.

    The killing of priests is about as crooked a line as you can get. Perhaps the devil isn't brave enough to attack women religious. When you ask them, all of these men, the living and the dead, much prefer to bear this violence, themselves. 

    If this violence is as crooked as it gets, I'm looking forward to seeing what fruit is borne from these terrors. Here's another great quote: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church"  

    That one's from Tertullian:

    "This Time, It's Personal"

    I'm not sure if this quote comes from Jaws: The Revenge or Rambo III -- definitely not a Saint this time.    

    Some of these priests were my friends. Fr. Ryan Hallford and Fr. Mark Beard, especially. Again, Fr. Ryan survived multiple gun shot wounds. Fr. Beard did not survive his car accident.


    Fr. Ryan Hallford

    Fr. Ryan survived three -- three -- point blank gunshots wounds. His recovery has seemed almost effortless. One of the shots broke through his pelvic bone. The other two passed through flesh and avoided organs.      

    I have hung out with Fr. Ryan since the attack and during his recuperation. I guess you could say I've interviewed him about his attack and recovery, but it was really just two friends talking. He is doing amazingly well. His survival was nothing short of a miracle. 

    You can listen to the sheriff's office full account of the shooting here:

    Fr. Ryan's speedy recovery will probably be attributed to his youth. Father is still in his thirties. And also his athleticism. Father is a long-time wrestler and, for several years now, has competed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments. 

    Through jiu-jitsu, Fr. Ryan has trained his body to function during asphyxiation, to continue wrestling while suffocating. He also trained his brain to manage rushes of adrenaline. 

    Because of these physical adaptations, not to mention his faith, Fr. Ryan stayed calm throughout the attack and aftermath. He had the presence of mind to keep praying, to say his Act of Contrition, and put himself in the hand of God, even while his blood was draining from his body and soaking his sister's small car.   

    When it came time to call an ambulance, Fr. Ryan looked down at his phone. He realized it had been destroyed by one of the bullets. He laughed and said, "not gonna need that anymore" and tossed it aside. 

    Because they couldn't call an ambulance, Fr. Ryan's sister actually drove him to the hospital. Poor darling, she had also been shot. A couple of her fingers were hanging by a thread as she drove her dying brother to the hospital. 

    We can already see how God is writing and righting this crooked situation to the good. For one, even though Fr. Ryan's brother, Casey, will be in prison for a long, long time, Casey can now get the mental help and restraint he has long-needed. 

    Casey Hallford's struggles have long been a heavy burden on Fr. Ryan. Not long before this, Father even stepped away from active ministry to help his family. While a younger man, Fr. Ryan was even named legal guardian of some of his siblings. 

    Fr. Ryan's heroism has long been hidden in the private struggles of his family, but now, I hope, Fr. Ryan can emerge from under this dark cloud. 

    Fr. Ryan has an amazing array of talents and abilities that have been temporarily shuttered by his family's struggles. He single-handedly organized our diocese's disaster response efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ida, which obliterated a dozen or so cities. He also started the Frassati House, an innovative approach to community-building for young families named after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

    Fr. Ryan is a master of logistics. I hope, after he has fully recovered, he can now return to active ministry. Please keep him and his family in your prayers! 

    Fr. Otis Young, murdered priest

    Fr. Otis Young's Scapular Miracle

    Fr. Otis' death also included a miracle. 

    Warning: Fr. Otis' death wasn't just tragic, it was horrifying. He was bludgeoned to death, then, hopefully following his death, set on fire by his murdered in an attempt to hide evidence. 

    But, even in the midst of this horror, there was a miracle. 

    Fr. Otis Young entire body was burned beyond recognition. Only one item survived untouched, unscathed. It was the same item that guarantees our own escape from the flames of Hell. Fr. Otis' scapular. 

    And not just the metal parts of Fr. Otis' scapular survived! The cloth was untouched, too. The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary was singed, but not burned. 

    I have already written another article about Fr. Otis' Miracle of the Scapular here, if you would like to read the whole story:

    Fr. Otis' Miracle of the Scapular

    Again, can you see God taking this crooked lines, these horribly bent and ugly lines, and creating beauty from them? 

    Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Otis Young! Hopefully, we'll be able to ask for his intercession one day soon, as well. 

    Fr. Mark Beard

    Fr. Mark Beard's lines were already big, bold, and bright. Though a late vocation to the priesthood, Fr. Beard's years as a priest were incredibly productive. 

    Assuredly, Fr. Mark Beard's story is still being written. The crooked line of his senseless death in an automobile accident -- this is not the end of this story. Fr. Mark, in his short time as priest, left a huge "Mark." Fr. Mark was a builder. He had already helped build a Eucharistic retreat center around his own parish and was building a sprawling Catholic retreat destination at Our Lady of Hope in Chatawa, Mississippi.  

    Speaking of "hope," I am reminded of a few lines from the Te Deum:

    In you, Lord, is our hope:
    And we shall never hope in vain.

    "Hope" still reigns, even after Fr. Mark's death. I can only imagine how Our Lady of Hope will continue to grow after Fr. Mark's death. There were plans for the site to include a great cathedral and a Catholic college.  

    Two things should be obvious to everyone who was touched by this man's great fire and zeal: (1) the devil wanted him out of the picture, and (2) great things will ripple out from Fr. Beard's life and death. 

    This article is still being written. God is still writing these stories, still creating miracles and beauty from the violence. Check back for more ...  

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    1. All night last night, I tossed and turned praying for Fr. Ryan. He wasn’t in my thoughts at all, then he was. I do not know him well. We spoke in college on the phone once, but never again since then. Immediately when I woke up this morning I did a search to try to see how he is doing. I saw your article. I agree wholeheartedly that our priest are under attack. We also lost a sweet priest to suicide. Fr Ryan must be very dear to Mary. Our Lady has him wrapped in her mantle. She usually wakes me to pray for the sweet sons she has wrapped up. I will continue to pray for him, and the spiritual warfare that is rampant in our family and religious vocations. Keep fighting the good fight. Glory be to God!

    2. You may want to delete my comment. I understand if you do. I had just discovered Fr.Mark's homily for the first time on July 30th and was so moved by it that I wanted to never miss another. I did a Google search to learn more about him and was caught off balance by seeing him referred to in the past tense. "Fr.Mark Beard was...".My first thoughts were that I was reading the posts wrong. When I saw the news report my gut feeling was that it wasn't an accident and that the devil was somehow behind it. Several of my friends, even non Catholics, expressed the same. Your post echoed ours. I hope there is an investigation of the accident to put to rest these assumptions or to bring to justice those responsible. I believe Fr. Mark is a saint and perhaps a martyr for boldly speaking the truth.

    3. Is there an investigation being conducted on Father Beard's accident, did he have a heart attack? What caused his car to go off the road? This is such a significant loss to all trying to stay the course