By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary
During his 37 years as the founding pastor of Holy Spirit Church in Algiers, 90-year-old Msgr. Allen Roy – who has always preferred to be called “Father” Roy – discovered a great way of getting to know his parishioners on a first-name basis.
“I would ask people, ‘When you come up for Communion, please give me your name,’” Father Roy recalled. “That way, every Sunday, I was renewing those names in my mind.”
One summer, Holy Spirit celebrated a ministry Mass, followed by a fair and a reception in the parish hall. More than a hundred people were there.
“You know all these people’s names?” a parishioner asked Father Roy.
It was the ultimate pop quiz.
“I’m not sure, but I think I can call the names,” Father Roy said, smiling.
“Bet you can’t.”
“Bet you I can.”
As word went around the hall, parishioners got excited. For Father Roy, it was time not for Communion – but for communion. He walked from table to table and nailed every name.
“Over a hundred of them,” he said, laughing. “These are people whose families I became part of. The people all laughed about it.”
As a priest for 65 years – he was ordained in the Marian Year of 1954 along with stalwart priests such as Msgr. Clinton Doskey, Msgr. Jacques Songy and Msgr. Ignatius Roppolo – Father Roy was known in every sense as a spiritual father, especially when it came to baptisms.
When he completed the Trinitarian sacramental ritual, Father Roy would hold the new Christian infant aloft and proudly present him or her to the congregation.
“It was like Kunta Kinte in ‘The Lion King,’” Father Roy said, pointing to a framed painting on the wall of his Apartment H (“That’s Apartment ‘H’ as in heaven”) at the St. John Vianney Villa for retired priests in Marrero. “A lady named Samantha painted that for me. That baby is now about 20 years old.”
Father Roy recalls that even as a child growing up in New Roads, Louisiana – as the eldest of four sons born to Allen Joseph and Lucy Plauche Roy – he thought about becoming a priest.
His father was a farmer, a levee builder and later a blacksmith, and WWII was just about wrapping up when he was a junior at St. Joseph Academy in New Roads, thinking about going to St. Joseph Seminary College (St. Ben’s).
“My dad told me, ‘You’re the oldest of the boys, and I need you in the shop. Stay until you finish high school, and then if you want to go, good,’” Father Roy recalled.
He went to St. Ben’s in 1946, finished in two years, and then went on to Notre Dame Seminary for six years of theological training.
16 priests in the family
One of the amazing aspects of Father Roy’s family tree – replete with branch names such as Plauche, Lacour, Broussard, Chenevert, Ducote, Brouillette, Saucier and Gremillion – is that 16 “family” priests are among the three and four generations. The family tree also includes numerous women religious. Father Roy’s mother’s godfather, Msgr. J.V. Plauche, a pastor in Shreveport, preached at Father Roy’s first Mass.
“But, please remember, my memory may not be all too good,” Father Roy said.
Actually, it’s razor sharp. When he was pastor of Holy Spirit, he invited the People Program, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph, to offer courses to seniors on everything from music to computers to genealogy to dancing to storytelling.
“At first, I didn’t know anything about the People Program – I thought it was bingo,” he said. “The more I saw of it, the more I said, ‘This thing makes sense.’”
As that program flourished, Father Roy even taught classes himself on Cajun culture, Scripture and fine music.
After his ordination in 1954, Father Roy served at Our Lady Star of the Sea in New Orleans, and in the 1960s, he was a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes in Violet when Hurricane Betsy hit. A famous Clarion Herald picture shows Archbishop Philip Hannan, Father John Bahan and Father Roy examining the remains of the Mother Cabrini Chapel in Reggio that had been yanked from its moorings and tossed into the water.
“She moved across the highway, and the back end and all of the sanctuary was down in 6 feet of water,” Father Roy said.
He also served at Our Lady of the Rosary in New Orleans under Auxiliary Bishop Louis Abel Caillouet and for six years at St. Joseph Church in Chauvin before being asked to establish Holy Spirit in 1972.
At 90, he still celebrates Masses at Wynhoven Health Care Center on Mondays and at Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center on Fridays, in addition to celebrating Masses at other parishes and concelebrating with his retired colleagues at St. John Vianney Villa at the villa chapel.
What do his 65 years as a priest mean to him?
“Everything – my whole life,” he says.
And, something else.
He was scooting around Winn-Dixie recently in one of the store’s electric grocery carts when he heard a young woman shriek: “Father Roy!”
“It was a girl who had been one of my altar servers,” he said. “She went on to Mount Carmel and was at the top of her class. Now she’s studying child psychology in college.
“As a priest, when you’re going to counsel or anoint or bury someone, you really become part of the family. You celebrate with them. You marry them. You bury them. Such a wonderful thing.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.