Servants of God: Meet the two potential saints on the USCCB agenda

At their virtual meeting next week, the U.S. bishops will vote on the causes for canonization of two Servants of God, both military personnel who risked their own safety to protect the lives of others.

Father Joseph Lafleur and Leonard LaRue - later known as Brother Marinus - have been honored by both civil and religious authorities for their acts of self-sacrifice during wartime. Lafleur sacrificed his life to help other prisoners of war evacuate a sinking ship during World War II. LaRue volunteered his cargo ship to conduct one of the largest single refugee evacuations in history during the Korean War. 

The lives of the two men will be discussed at the June 16-18 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

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Father Joseph Lafleur

Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur was born in Ville Platte, Louisiana on Jan. 24, 1912. He was ordained a priest in 1938 and became a military chaplain a few years later.

Stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines during a Dec. 8, 1941 attack, Lafleur helped rescue those who were wounded and assist the dying. He later became a Japanese prisoner of war (POW) for more than two years. He was known for ministering to those imprisoned with him, both spiritually and materially. He would often give his own food or medicine to those in need.

Lafleur was killed on Sept. 7, 1944 while aboard a Japanese POW vessel that was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine. According to survivors, he was seen helping other prisoners on board evacuate the sinking ship, forgoing his own opportunity to escape.

He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. During the award ceremony, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham praised Lafleur as “the epitome of a good American and a godly man.”

Lafleur’s cause for canonization was opened by Bishop Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette on Sept. 5, 2020.

In his 2017 address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio recalled Lafluer as “a man for others right to the end.” 

“He drew on his virtue to care for, protect, and fortify the men imprisoned with him,” Broglio said. “Many survived because he was a man of virtue who gave unstintingly of himself. To speak of the greatness of our Country is to speak of men and women of virtue who gave of themselves for the benefit of all. We build for a new tomorrow when we draw from that wellspring of virtue.”

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Brother Marinus (Leonard) LaRue

Leonard LaRue was born Jan. 14, 1914 in Philadelphia. He became a U.S. Merchant Marine Captain on the S.S. Meredith Victory, a small freighter bringing supplies to American soldiers in Korea during the Korean War.

While delivering supplies to the port of Hungnam in December 1950, LaRue discovered tens of thousands of frightened Korean refugees packing the city’s docks, seeking to flee the invading Communist troops.

Moved with pity by the sight, LaRue welcomed 14,000 refugees into the cargo holds of the small ship, which was designed to hold only about 60 people. He transported them all safely through enemy waters to a South Korean island, where they arrived on Christmas Day after a nearly 500-mile voyage.

The crew of the S.S. Meredith Victory were given awards by both the South Korean and U.S. governments for the rescue.

In 1954, LaRue entered a Benedictine monastery in Newton, N.J., taking the name Brother Marinus. He lived there until his death in 2001.

LaRue’s cause for canonization was opened by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J. on March 25, 2019.