Monsignor Henry Charles Bezou: Monsignor Bezou Dies at 76; Ex-chief of Catholic Schools
Monsignor Henry Charles Bezou, a longtime parish priest who was superintendent of Catholic schools when they were desegregated in the early 1960s, died Tuesday at his Metairie home. He was 76.
He had a heart attack while he was dressing to celebrate Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie, archdiocesan spokesman Tom Finney said.
When Monsignor Bezou was a 30-year-old priest with scant experience as a school administrator, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel appointed him superintendent of the archdiocesan schools, making him one of the youngest school-system leaders in the country. He held the job from 1943 until he retired in 1968.
Under his guidance, Catholic school enrollment doubled. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional, Catholic school officials around the country knew change was inevitable for them, too.
Monsignor Bezou said he was "merely the archbishop's liaison officer," but he was closely involved in the day-to-day effort to integrate Catholic schools.
To die-hard segregationists, he preached the "fundamental dignity and infinite worth of the individual regardless of race, national origin or economic status." Segregation, he told them, "is not right because it violates the principle of man's natural dignity."
To those favoring immediate integration, he advised waiting until public schools were "effectively integrated." The court-ordered desegregation of New Orleans' public schools began in 1960; integration of parochial schools followed in 1962.
Monsignor Bezou was born in New Orleans in 1913. He attended St. Aloysius High School in New Orleans and went to St. Joseph Seminary near Covington before receiving his degree from Notre Dame Seminary in 1938. He later received a master's degree from Catholic University of America and honorary doctorates from Loyola University and Notre Dame Seminary.
He was ordained by Rummel in St. Louis Cathedral in 1938.
During the first four years of his priesthood, he preached, taught and said Mass along the Louisiana bayous, often working with Indian families. He ran the normal school in Houma, La., before becoming archdiocesan school superintendent.
Besides his superintendent's duties, he was pastor of St. Patrick Church in New Orleans from 1951 to 1965 and Our Lady Star of the Sea from 1965 to 1967. A former secretary, Eleanor Mora, said he was "a devout man, whose primary concern was to serve his people. Nothing was too much trouble for him, and he insisted on being available to them at any hour."
He was pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Metairie from 1967 to 1983, when he became pastor emeritus. In April 1988, a Mass was celebrated there to mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination.
From 1955 to 1965, he was spiritual director of the Ozanam Inn.
He wrote books, historical monographs, articles, pamphlets and brochures on such wide-ranging subjects as a course of study for Catholic schools in Louisiana and histories of St. Patrick Church and Our Lady of Lourdes. His best-read book was probably "Metairie: A Tongue of Land to Pasture," which was published in 1973.
Monsignor Bezou also was an ardent Francophile. France named him a chevalier of the Legion of Honor and awarded him the Palmes Academiques, and he was part of the official welcoming party when two French presidents - Charles de Gaulle and Valery Giscard d'Estaing - arrived at St. Louis Cathedral during state visits to this country.
He was president of the Jefferson Historical Society of Louisiana, a member of the regional advisory board of the American Red Cross and a board member of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.
He also was a participant in the 1955 White House Conference on Education and a member of the American Catholic Historical Association, the Foreign Policy Association and the National Catholic Education Association.
Survivors include two brothers, Marion J. Beauregard-Bezou of Elberta, Mich., and George Marc Bezou Sr. of Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Masses will be said tonight at 8 and Thursday at 8 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Church, 448 Metairie Road. A Mass of Christian Burial will be said there Thursday at 11 a.m.
Burial will be in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Wednesday, August 16, 1989
Sponsored by Ancestry