Monsignor Richard von Phul Mouton of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette passed away Wednesday. He was 86 years old. The press has remembered him already and so have many of the institutions with which he was associated. His official obituary in the Daily Advertiser is here. More or less the same obituary appeared in other papers. I attended only the wake for complicated reasons but expect the funeral to be a grand and deserved tribute.
Mouton died at 2:21 p.m. Wednesday at Lafayette General Medical Center among those attending to his last illness was his brother, Frank Anthony Mouton. He is preceded in death by his father, Scranton Alfred Mouton, Sr., mother, Inez Genevieve von Phul Mouton, brother, Scranton Alfred Mouton, Jr., and sister-in-law, Margaret Apple Mouton. He is survived by his brothers, Frank Anthony Mouton and Marc Gilbert Mouton, Sr., sister-in-law Betty LaCour Mouton, and numerous nieces and nephews. The Mouton family is a prominent family in the region and Alfred Mouton, at least for now, still occupies a central place on a statue in the center of Monsignor’s hometown. The Mouton House is a museum not far from the Cathedral where Monsignor lived out much of his last phase of life since July 1, 2007, Monsignor took up residence as a Senior Priest at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. This nearby Mouton house seems small compared to other Plantation owners homes in the South but this was the town house (not the larger country home) where Governor and General Mouton — father and son– stayed over to attend mass at the nearby St. John’s Church in Antebellum Lafayette. The Mouton connections among Acadians (such as the governor and the General) and the non Acadian French are indeed extensive. Monsignor Mouton was very aware of his heritage though not one to harp on it with people who were not aware of it.
Richard Mouton was born on March 17, 1931 in Lafayette, Louisiana. He was baptized on March 25 of the same year at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, where he would later attend the Cathedral primary school and receive the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. He was ordained at this same Cathedral on June 4, 1955 and assigned as Associate Pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Abbeville –which has always been my real home parish where I was baptized, made my first communion and was wed — but Monsignor did not officiate at any of those sacraments and was not pastor there in any of those years. I did not know him as Associate pastor.
When I met him he was the intellectually mature Pastor of the Parish who had returned from completing his doctoral degree in Rome. His doctoral thesis was entitled “The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Mass,” Father Mouton returned to Louisiana and was assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in Lake Charles, the current Bishop of Lake Charles Glen Provost was one of his Associate Pastors at St. Mary Magdalen in Abbeville and they distinguished themselves as a team with their deep love of the liturgy. Monsignor had also gotten an international status as a priest before he was pastor — this was because in 1962, he attended the Second Vatican Council, in the company of Bishop Maurice Shexnayder, and was subsequently appointed Peritus Concilii Vaticani Secundi (Expert of the Second Vatican Council). Still before I met him and when I was in fact two years old, In June 1966, Father Mouton was elevated to Monsignor Mouton. Like Monsignor Ignatius A. Martin with whom I lived in Duson and who had a major role to play in my parents return to the faith of their youth when he was a Pastor at St. Mary Magdalene — Monsignor Mouton would also serve as Superintendent of Catholic Schools from June 1967 to the time he received his first assignment as Pastor at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Abbeville in 1973. It was during that period that I got to know him. Many people knew Msgr. Richard Van Phul Mouton better than I but nobody knew him exactly as I did. His official obituary did not mention founding the Christian Service Center in Abbeville, the work he did with liturgy in parish life, hosting the Lay Evangelist Training and Commissioning Program for the Diocese of Lafayette or his significant involvement with the Fr. Conley Bertrand’s Come Lord Jesus program, the ground work and development of the Catholic is the Name Weekends, fostering Perpetual Adoration, or any of the other ways in which our paths crossed most publicly. He also officiated at my great grandmother’s funeral where I read one of the readings and based on that encounter he asked me to serve as lector which I did most of the time when I was in country and he was pastor was it was my turn. Many of the friends of my youth had him as a teacher at VCHS, they told me. I never did. But despite eating hundreds of meals with priests, I was somehow closer to Monsignor than all but a tiny few. It is odd, I suppose. But my real connections were more personal and complicated, he twice asked me to enter the seminary and I twice regretfully declined — that was a long time ago, before I was married. I considered the priesthood at other times but really at those particular times I felt certain that I could not seriously pursue that option. Monsignor was also my confessor and spiritual director for some but not all of that time, I found him an insightful and serious man with whom anything could be discussed.
In February 1987, Monsignor Mouton was assigned as Pastor of St. Pius X Church in Lafayette in a an unusual swap with Fr. Donald Theriot who was the celebrant at my wedding. Theriot came to St. Mary Magdalene from Pius X. During his time as Pastor, Monsignor participated in the development of various pastoral ministries, most notably the development of St. Thomas More Catholic High School and the founding of St. Pius X Elementary School. I would later teach at St. Thomas More High School of which St. Pius is a Corporate Parish and would move there during my year of teaching and then away to Baton Rouge to pursue my M.A. but my parents would move there with my younger siblings and he would remain their pastor and he would be someone I had much occasion to see. When I was teaching at St. Thomas More High School we did have some interactions. Mostly those related to crises in the school administration at a school which is normally stable but was having an unstable year. STM was in the official obituary whereas virtually nothing from Abbeville was in it except merely his pastorate. However, it is not a matter of question that St. Pius Elementary School there is one of his greatest achievements. He saw Catholic education as a key part of preserving the Faith and the right kind of Christian intellectual development. But he was a Ragin’ Cajun as well and continued his studies at the local secular university and not only at St. Joseph’s Seminary and the Pontifical College. He saw the light of Divine Truth in all learning, although I don’t have the particular courses at hand I am pretty sure that I remember that. He lived a faith in his time. To quote the official obituary:
If the loss of faith is a life’s greatest tragedy, then surely its preservation is a life’s greatest triumph; Monsignor Mouton was certainly a great guardian of the Church and preserved Her teachings through his ministry to the many who loved him.
“I value the priesthood I have been graced to share in…I have happily done what I was asked to do by my Bishop, ministering to his flock, hopefully, with zeal and charity. God knows and I praise Him for the graces I believe He gave me in doing so. All the good I have done I have truly done by the grace of God.”
Monsignor Richard von Phul Mouton
By the Grace of God
Beyond those public ministries, going back to the family comments made at the start, Monsignor was a full and thorough example of commitment to the priesthood but he was also a man with all the connections of a man of a particular, place time and lineage. Msgr. Mouton had a circle of not very close friends with some common regional interests and I helped people a few times with translations of Heraldic and ancestral documents because they met me when I was discussing such things with this son of Acadiana. He also had great capacity for saying a lot in a few words about places he’d been. I have probably traveled with a hundreds priests, some bishops and a few cardinals — I never remember being in the same vehicle with Monsignor. We were at many receptions together over my lifetime but only shared a meal at table perhaps four times.
Monsignor knew many challenges in life. One of them was a bit vicarious. One of his closest friends in life was also ordained Jun. 04, 1955 and Msgr. H.A. Larroque was the brilliant Canon Lawyer with whom he could discuss many ideas and concerns. Before the explosion of the child abuse crisis Monsignor had (hard as this will be for many to believe) discussed with me his concerns about safe environment issues and the need to do more in preventing problems related to sexual behavior through priestly formation. But the conversations were related to our discussions about my concerns with some seminary environments I had encountered in the world. I had no idea he was dealing with real problems among priests close at hand and not as effectively as he probably should have and felt he should have. His really good friend was caught up in dealing with religious and secular legal matters, world wide media scrutiny and countless other moral issues and it was an ordeal. With me Monsignor never pretended he or his very close friend had perfect answers to any of these crises. I was proud of the fact that the Church paid huge damage awards, sponsored programs, organized safe environment training, struggled to weather the storm and did lots of other things. I often said that while I excused nothing of the worst abuses the Church paid mostly the price of being a responsible and enduring institution in the society of shirking, dissolution and changing names which characterizes the modern world. But truthfully the child abuse scandals did change something about our conversations.
Monsignor and I were both strong personalities, he was clearly the more successful of the two and much older but we held very little back in our really private conversation although they were ALWAYS cordial they could be both heated and cordial intense and measured. During my later life we corresponded almost entirely about grave and confidential matters and enjoyed only a few brief friendly conversations. Virtually none were related to child abuse or other issues that make a lot of ink. But they were issues we both took seriously.
The Crest of the Carmelite Order which operated the Mount Carmel Elementary School I attended.
My Certification as a Catechist for the Diocese of Baton Rouge
My Sophomore Class Award from the Franciscan University of Steubenville
I considered him a great man and a good priest. Sometimes, I considered him a fairly close friend. That’s not something I find as easy to explain. I lived with Msgr. Ignatius Martin and was a close companion of a Jesuit Missionary priest named Joseph Stoffel in the Philippines. Both were friends and I knew them in more ordinary friendly ways. But Msgr. Mouton and I had some common concerns that I shared with few other people over my lifetime. We didn’t always agree. But the void he leaves cannot be filled by anyone else I know. Life has taken many turns since the days since Monsignor Mouton and I knew each other best.
I have usually posted a kind of obituary on my blog for prominent people who were also significant in my life and I am doing that again for Msgr. Mouton. For as long as the blog exists it helps me organize these memories. People have often revisited these blog entries over the years, so someone else gets something out of it as well. But Monsignor is not likely to slip my mind often for very long.