"You did not recognize the time of your visitation..." (Lk. 19:41-44).
The fifth of Mathilde's (nee Rochon) and James L. Olivier's eight children, Bishop Leonard James Olivier, was born in 1923 in Lake Charles, La. In 1939 he entered the Society of the Divine Word and attended St. Augustine in Bay St. Louis, Miss. After ordination, he remained at St Augustine, the first seminary established to educate African-American men for the priesthood. One can imagine that Bishop Olivier, in the words of that great poet laureate, James Weldon Johnson, said, "Lower me to my dusty grave in peace, to wait for that great gittin-up morning." Bishop Olivier's great gittin-up morning occurred on November 19, 2014.
This humble and peaceful gentleman carried a big stick to push forth education and vocation. He transitioned in peace.
From my personal experience, when contacting him for financial support to attend the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS), Bishop Olivier graciously assisted. He acted without personally knowing me. We never had lunch, nor did he ask me to write an essay explaining my ministry's future goals. I am sure that Bishop Olivier inquired about me; he contacted the Office of Black Catholics or my Pastor more than likely. Honestly, at that time, I did not recognize the time of this visitation from this inspiring man. I was looking for that "mean green, almighty dollar." I did not know the depth of this man's peaceful heart.
However, once I began my studies at the IBCS, this experience enriched my spiritual life. Encountering and engaging great Black Catholic teachers like Dr. Addie Walker, Dr. Shawn Copland, Fr. Cyprian Davis, Fr. Joseph Brown, and a host of other prolific leaders blessed me. Their pedagogy expunged the miseducation of my Catholic learning. And this institute for higher education for Black Catholics under the now appointed leadership of Dr. Katheleen Bellows completed its 41st summer session in 2020.
As the wonderful Bishop Olivier rejoices in glory, dancing, and prancing with other noted Black Catholics, like Kenneth Louis, who stepped into glory land on November 17, 2020, these individuals galvanized Black Catholics to sing, "Rejoice, this is the day the Lord has made." Let it be known that Bishop Olivier advised many in discerning their vocation, either through financial support, a wise saying, or life lessons. Black Catholic's spirituality is more robust because we rest on his shoulders, "ASHA."
What about you? Are you helping others to recognize their ministry in the Church or your parish? Bishop Olivier epitomized the wise words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth" (1 Cor. 3:6). Bishop Olivier was indeed a planter of faith, hope, and love; he helped many to discern the visitation of the Lord's calling. Bishop Olivier, be with us.
James Weldon Johnson, The Book of American Negro Poetry, "Listen, Lord (A Prayer from God's Trombones)
Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS