The monument is located in front of St. Landry Catholic Church, 1020 North Main St., Opelousas, Louisiana. Parish office hours, contact information and a map to the church can be found by clicking here.
Sculpted by renowned Italian artist, Franco Alessandrini, Father Lafleur’s last heroic crowning moment of life is depicted in white Carrara marble. Beautifully carved is Father Lafleur struggling to push men to possible freedom from the hull of the torpedoed and sinking ”hell ship”, the Shinyo Maru while water pours down over them. Of 750 prisoners of war aboard this ship, only 83 survived to tell the tragic story of their plight and how Lieutenant Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur, “Padre” to his fellow soldiers, gave his life once more for his men.
The four sided base of the monument depicts significant events in Father Lafleur’s 32 years of life. Opposite the name engraving is a basso relief of Father Lafleur as Associate Pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Abbeville, Louisiana where he served from 1938 through 1941. While this was Father Lafleur’s only assignment as a diocesan priest of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, he made a lasting impression upon the people of Vermilion Parish as a zealous and loving priest. Among the youth, Father Lafleur was a great inspiration of faith in addition to being an avid sportsman. The boys of Abbeville had very little financial resources available to them for non-necessities. Depicted is Father Lafleur bringing baseball bats, gloves, and balls to the boys. Some of the boys later learned, after Father Lafleur’s death, that he had purchased these bats, gloves, and balls by pawning his wristwatch.
The two remaining basso reliefs are of Father Lafleur’s time in the Philippine Islands. The first is Father Lafleur at the initial surprise attack on Clark Field Air Base on December 8, 1941. Here, Father Lafleur ministered to the wounded and dying without any regard for his personal safety. For his actions, he won the Distinguished Service Cross and was later awarded the Purple Heart as well as the Bronze Star. The attack at Clark Field started a series of events that led to the ordered surrender of all American soldiers to the Japanese militia. For nearly two and one-half years, Father Lafleur was a prisoner of war including stays at O’Donnell, Cabanatuan, Davao, and Lasang prisoner of war camps.
The final basso relief depicts the sinking of the prisoner of war ship, Shinyo Maru, on September 7, 1944. Most P.O.W. ships were nothing more than old freighter ships used by the Japanese to transport men to and from various prisoner of war camps. The ship which Father Lafleur perished on was not flying the P.O.W. flag and was mistakenly torpedoed by the U.S.S. Paddle. Already severely weakened by malnutrition, dehydration, and heat exhaustion as well as many of the men being wounded, few were able to attempt to escape the hull of the sinking and burning ship. It was here that Father Lafleur, “Padre”, led his men in prayer, blessed them, and began pushing men up through the one escape hatch to the deck and to possible safety.
Visit Franco Alessandrini’s website here: http://www.francoalessandrini.net/