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Black Catholic bishop in New Orleans continues to recover after health scare

Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III, OFM is on the mend after being hospitalized multiple times in the past several months.

Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III, OFM of New Orleans (left) with Dr. Ansel Augustine in November 2022. (New Orleans Office of Black Catholics)

The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced in late January that Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III, OFM continues to recover after a health scare that led to multiple hospitalizations over the past several months.

The 71-year-old African American prelate was released from his most recent hospitalization in November, and Dr. Ansel Augustine of the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholics published the update on his condition.

“He's slowly improving, but still has a way to go. He's in dialysis 3 times a week and is in physical therapy as well,” he wrote on January 20.

“He is in great spirits and is appreciative of the prayers and love.”

Quick Update on Bishop Cheri.... He's slowly improving, but still has a way to go. He's in Dialysis 3 times a week and...

Posted by Black Catholics of New Orleans on Friday, January 20, 2023

The archdiocese gave a similar update in November, upon Cheri's latest release from the hospital. He had been admitted in September for an infection, following a multi-day hospitalization in June for what was described merely as “health concerns.”

“He has offered his gratitude for the many prayers for him and his doctors and nurses and asks that those prayers continue,” the archdiocese said in November.

“Let us give thanks for his progress and pray in hope that his healing will continue!”

Though the archdiocese did not specify in that update what had led to Cheri’s most recent hospitalization, the retired Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville had noted in a September speech to the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators that it involved “heart and kidney ailments.”

“I have known Bishop Cheri long before he became a bishop and I appreciate his Franciscan spirit and his many contributions to the Church so very much. Let us pray for him constantly throughout this day and the days ahead,” Braxton said.

Cheri previously faced a major health scare shortly after his elevation to the episcopate in New Orleans, when he suffered heart attack just over a year later, in May 2016. He underwent a heart bypass surgery thereafter.

At the time, Cheri told the local Catholic press that he was born with only one kidney, which he said “complicates a lot of stuff.”

A noted author, liturgist, and preacher, Cheri has served as a priest since 1978, when he was ordained for his home archdiocese of New Orleans. He joined the Franciscans in 1992 and has since served in Black Catholic parishes and schools around the country.

His most recent post was as parochial administrator of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in New Orlean’s Tremé neighborhood, where he began serving in January 2021.

It is unclear if or when Cheri will be able to return to ministry, making him one of several African-American Catholic bishops rumored to be leaving office in the near future. Three will have reached the mandatory retirement request age of 75 by April, amounting to half of the nation’s current active total.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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