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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

More than an Obit for Sister Marcy / April 2017

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

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April 2017


More than an 
Obit for Sister Marcy Romine

BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved 
Sister Marcy Romine, 67, died on Valentine's Day, February 14 at her apartment in New Orleans. She was a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 47 years.
Sister Marcy Romine
 Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, she entered the Franciscan Sisters Order in 1968 and professed perpetual vows in 1974. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis and a master's degree from Loyola University in New Orleans.
Sister Marcy taught at Saint Adalbert, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Casimir Schools in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri. She also taught at Little Flower Academy in Monroe, Louisiana, and Holy Trinity School in Bucyrus, Ohio. Following teaching, she became the Director of Volunteers for Project Lazarus in New Orleans, and then responded to a call from her community to serve as vocation minister in Saint Louis, Missouri. 

She returned to New Orleans about five years ago to became director of special projects at the NO/AIDS Task Force. 

"My temporal spiritual home," was Sister Marcy's sweet rift on the philosophical note raised high by fellow Saint Louis immigrant to New Orleans, Tennessee Williams.  Williams famously called New Orleans his Spiritual Home.

  Soon after her return to Big Swamp City we met for lunch at Cake Cafe and Bakery, on Spain and
Lazarus House, green building foreground of Holy Trinity Church
 Chartres Streets. We were old friends from Lazarus House days, happy to see each other again.

Project Lazarus is an AIDS / HIV services project. I was a new volunteer the year Sister Marcy first came to Louisiana. We met for orientation, and to be given the name of a person I would visit ~ reading to ~ an agreed title ~ visiting regularly ~ as we saw fit ~ befriending ~ and, yes, sometimes sitting bedside at the last hour. I know this may sound creepy, but it was actually liberating.


"What will happen if I start to cry?" I asked, at that first meeting.  


(In full disclosure: I volunteered because it had been suggested by a grief counselor that I do so as a way of dealing with loss of friends. In those early days, when President Ronald Reagan would not even speak the name, the 
NO/AIDS Task Force opened on Frenchmen Street.  With laudable civic grace they offered free counseling for the ill and the bereaved.)

Sister Marcy said"It might give them a chance to cry, too. We hope to demystify death, and it is not like they don't know. They will let you know where they are."


Project Lazarus began as Lazarus House, an AIDS hospice in the former rectory of Holy Trinity Catholic Church

Holy Trinity was founded in 1854, as a prosperous German congregation, on Saint Ferdinand Street. It served the new German and Italian settlements of Faubourgs Marigny and Bywater. 

Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1854 /
 today, Marigny Opera House 
  This neighborhood also supported a German-speaking militia (police), and a German newspaper.  

Holy Trinity had grand French stained windows and magnificent Bavarian / Schwabish hand-carved wooden fixtures. All sold off by the Archdiocese after desanctification. Today the building is rentable as the charmingly misty venue, Marigny Opera Housein this misty post-Katrina gentrified neighborhood. 

During five years at Project Lazarus I befriended a young dark-skinned man from Baton Rouge, who went by the name of Roger X.  He held a PhD in physics, and was teaching mathematics on the graduate level when he was diagnosed. Life had been good. He had friends, a red Chrysler convertible, and was buying a house. He lost his job, most of his friends, his red car, new home, and even his eyesight, after he became ill. 


Once, reading a passage from A LESSON BEFORE DYING, I did cry.  When I had collected myself Roger X. calmly said, "I don't cry anymore. It is alright if you do." 

Roger X. had grown up in New Roads, Louisiana, hometown to Ernest Gaines, author of A LESSON BEFORE DYING, and distinguished professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

Like Gaines' protagonist in LESSON (Grant Wiggins), Roger X. wanted out of his Life in "the Quarters," the section of once plantation lands where blacks lived ~ then and now. Both men got out, and both got pulled back by roots, memories, 
membership in the community. 

We were reading A LESSON when Ernest Gaines and Oprah Winfrey took America on a tv-tour of New Roads, its church, and cemetery. 

Homie, Roger X., and I went along, too. 

Roger's weak eyes left him unable to see more than light and shadow ~ no details. I started describing what was on the tv-screen. Roger stopped me. He already saw it in his mind, he said, "As clearly as anyone watching in America."

His Father was a "Hardshell Baptist Preacher," he told everyone, in sad explanation for his never visiting. His Mother was loving, he said, but obedient to her Husband. 


That Christmas he went home for a first visit since diagnosis. He left December 12, and returned December 20.  The Prodigal Son's visit cut short five days before Christmas ~ in a devout Christian family ~ was a very bad sign. Sister Marcy called me to come visit. We read more of A LESSON BEFORE DYING. No one cried.


Roger X. died the following Spring. His Parents did not come, but his Mother phoned. Sister Marcy may have called her. In the last hours of care a hospice crew bathed, powdered and dressed him while I waited in the hall. 

I held the phone to his ear and spoke into it to his Mother: "He smells like baby powder, and is in a fresh blue gown."  I told her Roger's eyes were open and moist, "He knows it is you."

A few weeks after his death I wrote to the Oprah Winfrey show in Chicago. They wrote back and when A LESSON BEFORE DYING was made into a HBO movie I was invited to attend the premiere at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans. At the dinner afterwards at House of Blues, I sat at table with actor Cicely Tyson and chef Leah Chase.

Thank you Sister Marcy and Roger X., mes amis!

Post Mortem 
I know nothing of Roger's internment. Sister Marcy is buried ~ like Tennessee Williams ~ back in Saint Louis, Missouri. There was a huge memorial service and Second Line for her at the Marigny Opera House

(Tennessee Williams has annual festivals in his honor in New Orleans; Clarksdale, Mississippi; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and lately Saint Louis, Missouri.)

Comments and corrections are welcome, click here. 

Lagniappe du Jour, Today!

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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.


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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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