NEW ORLEANS — Xavier University of Louisiana, the nation’s Catholic HBCU, has acquired extensive archival managerial from the estate of the late Auxiliary Bishop Fernand “Ferd” Cheri III, OFM, a local prelate and XULA alum who passed away in March.
The school announced the news in late July, comprising the establishment of the Bishop Fernand Cheri Collection and a new public exhibition under the auspices of the XULA Archives.
“The family would like to preserve his ministry as best we could, and we felt if housed here at Xavier, it would mean a lot to Ferd and to others,” said Richard Cheri, the late bishop’s brother and a nationally known Catholic liturgist.
Born in 1952, Cheri was ordained for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where he served at various Black Catholic parishes in the region, as well as St. Augustine High School. He obtained a Master of Theology degree from XULA’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies after becoming a Franciscan.
In 2015, while serving in campus ministry at Quincy University in Illinois, Cheri was named the Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, a unique post in that it has been held mostly by African Americans since 1966.
As a bishop, Cheri served as an episcopal moderator for the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, having previously been a campus minister for multiple Catholic institutions, including at XULA from 2010 to 2011.
Active in various national organizations, Cheri was on the planning committees of the National Black Catholic Congress, the Unity Explosion Conference, and the Black Catholic Joint Conference. He was also a member of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and a convener of the nation’s African-American Catholic bishops.
Alongside his academic works, Cheri co-authored “Sweet, Sweet Spirit: Prayer Services from the Black Catholic Church” with Fr Joseph A. Brown, SJ, and was active in composing and collecting music borne from the Black Catholic and broader African-American tradition. His 7,000-strong CD collection will be among the works and artifacts housed in the new collection at XULA—including his vestments, crozier, and the historic “Freeing the Spirit” pectoral cross owned by Cheri and several other Black Catholic bishops in the United States.
“This gift from the family of Bishop Cheri will enhance Xavier’s teaching, scholarship, and Special Collections for decades,” said interim XULA library director Nancy Hampton,
“Students attending Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Bishop Cheri’s alma mater, will especially benefit from studying his music, sermons, and photographs.”
The Cheri exhibit will join a large collection of African-American history at XULA, founded in 1925 by St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament as the nation’s first Black Catholic institution of higher education. The school’s archives contain various items documenting “the changing historical landscape of New Orleans and its place in that history,” according to the university.
“This is an incredible archive for students, researchers, and the public,” said XULA archivist Vincent Barraza, who praised the new exhibit on the historic Black Catholic prelate.
“It provides valuable background and in-depth history of the life and career of Bishop Cheri. We are honored to be chosen to preserve the amazing artifacts of Bishop Cheri’s dedicated life of service. We look forward to nurturing the partnership with the Cheri Family and others who want to preserve Black Catholic history for our students, faculty, and visitors from around the world.”
The Bishop Fernand Cheri Collection can be viewed at the XULA Archives and Special Collections in the Library Resource Center from Monday through Friday, 9am to 3:30pm CT. To schedule a visit, contact Barraza at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (504) 520-7655.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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