‘A legacy of faith’ 

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

Inside St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge, lawmakers, state officials, Gov. John Bel Edwards, former Gov. Bobby Jindal and other members of former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s administration joined family and friends for an ecumenical interfaith memorial service Thursday, Aug. 22 for Blanco. Blanco died Sunday, Aug. 18, almost two years after being diagnosed with ocular melanoma. 

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Blanco’s grandsons served as pallbearers for the memorial service. The service was followed by a public viewing at the state capitol.  Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

The service included songs performed by the Southern University Gospel Choir and the Children’s Choir from St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge. Shortly before 10 a.m., bagpipes announced her arrival as the coffin was removed from the hearse and moved to the front doors of the church. At that time, 11 clergy members, including Bishop Michael G. Duca and Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, led the procession to the altar. The former governor’s nine grandsons served as pallbearers.  

Archbishop Aymond welcomed everyone to “the Cathedral of St. Joseph as we receive the beloved daughter of God and former governor of our state Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.”  

He recalled the importance of faith in her life and said she was returning to the cathedral, which served as her church parish while she was governor. 

“Governor Blanco never gave into desolation but rather renewed her spirit through her great trust in God’s providence to make up for what was lacking in power and easy answers,” said the archbishop. “We welcome Kathleen home again, grateful for her service and her strength which gave hope to the people of our state at all those times when hope was needed the most. 

“To Raymond Blanco, the governor’s faithful husband, and their children Karmen, Monique, Nicole, Raymond Junior and Pillar, and grandchildren; to Governor Blanco’s mother, Lucille Freeman Babineaux, and members of the Blanco family, we are grateful to you all for your caring accompaniment for our sister during these last years, easing her way home back to God and her deceased son, Ben,” he said.  

Archbishop Aymond then addressed Gov. John Bel Edwards and his wife, Donna, along with state and federal officials who worked with Blanco, stating, “may the blessings of your common work” remain as a memory and motivation to continue that work.  

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While welcoming everyone to the service, Archbishop Aymond recalled the importance of faith in Blanco’s life and said she was returning to the cathedral, which served as her church parish while she was governor.  

 

After Edwards and State Trooper Kevin Curlee draped the coffin with the Louisiana state flag, Bishop Duca offered the opening prayer. Sacred readings followed with Rabbi Barry Weinstein, Rev. Jennifer Jones, Jane Aslam, Rev. Herman Kelly, Rev. Raymond Jetson, Rev. Sharon Alexander, Rev. Leo Cyrus and Rev. Van Stinson.  

Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education, was one of only two speakers during the service. She recalled how Blanco, a former teacher, was an advocate for education.  

“She believed it was within her grasp to move people from poverty to prosperity through access to quality education, health care and employment,” Reed said.  

“Her faith is her legacy,” she added. “It anchored her in times of storm with the death of her son, Ben; as she shouldered state recovery from not one but two mega storms back to back; and, it helped her face her own mortality which she did with grace and courage and a deep sense of peace.”  

She also mentioned the famous quote that parents give their children roots and wings and said Blanco gave both.  

“Like a mighty oak, Kathleen has left us with deep roots … that tie us to a place that we are so proud to call home,” Reed said. “She has also given us wings to soar to new heights … calling us to be torchbearers for service, advocates for education and champions for children.”  

Edwards, the second speaker to offer a reflection, called the former governor “someone I was fortunate enough to know, to know well, to call a mentor and a friend.” Before his election, the governor said Blanco invited his family to Lafayette and met with each of his children to discuss how the state’s top office would affect them. He noted that she also spoke about the “need to focus on the least fortunate and most vulnerable in Louisiana.”

“This deep and abiding love that she had for all of the people, made her a special leader – authentic, consistent and sincere,” said the governor.

He said Blanco “led Louisiana through some of its darkest days,” but believed she was put in that position for a reason. 

“I also believe that she was meant to be governor of this great state for many other reasons,” Edwards added. “There was one group who needed her passionate and compassionate leadership more than any other – Louisiana’s children … she saw every child as a child of God.”

On a lighter note, after a stretch of Highway 90 was named in honor of Blanco this summer, Edwards said she asked “if I had another highway to name for her.”

“She found peace and I hope and pray that part of her peace was knowing that she could count on us to continue her legacy of caring for the people of this beautiful state she so proudly served and that she so dearly loved,” Edwards stated. “So let’s honor her by doing that.”

“O God, we are grateful for the long life of our sister, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, now caught up in your immense love. We thank you for her witness in service: she who was strong in faith, discerning in proclamation, courageous in witness and persistent in good deeds,” said Rev. Robin McCullough Bade in the closing prayer.

State troopers then removed the state flag from the casket and presented it to Coach Raymond Blanco. The Southern University Gospel Choir sang the closing song, “Amazing Grace,” as clergy and family members followed the coffin out of the church.

A police escort awaited the hearse and the family for the journey to the state capital for public viewing. Prayer services were held Friday, Aug. 23, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette with a Mass of Christian Burial at the church on Saturday.

Kathleen Babineaux Blanco served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1984 – 1988; the Louisiana Public Service Commission from 1988 – 1996; she was lieutenant governor from 1996-2004; and, governor from 2004 – 2008. She was 76 years old.

 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Former Governor Kathleen Blanco’s legacy of faith was evident in the way she loved her church and family and cared for the state of Louisiana and its people, say those who knew her.  

“Governor Kathleen Blanco epitomized a life of inspirational Catholic faith, compassionate charity and elegant grace,” said Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench. “Her training and experience as an educator enhanced her work first as a state legislator and then as governor.”  

He said in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 Blanco cooperated with the initiation of many state religious leaders who conducted various prayer services by personally convening a special prayer service.    

“Upon her being diagnosed with cancer, I emailed her to assure her of my support and prayers to which she acknowledged thanks. We exchanged occasional subsequent such messages. ‘Blessed are those who die in the Lord; their good deeds go before them’ (Rev 14:13). May she rest in peace,” Bishop Muench said.  

State Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed, who served as Blanco’s deputy chief of staff said, “She (Blanco) was always talking about her faith. She wanted to make sure her faith would be what she would be remembered for. It was Blanco’s faith that got her through the tough times. It gave her courage.” 

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Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Bishop Michael G. Duca, from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, along with clergy and representatives of other faiths join in an Ecumenical Interfaith Memorial Service for former Governor Kathleen Blanco at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge on Aug. 22.  

 

She said Blanco “never met a stranger,” and in her travels with her around the state she was genuine in her concern for people.  

Reed pointed out that in Blanco’s open letter to the people of the State of Louisiana, Blanco thanked the people and asked them to pray for her.  

“She was a humble person who believed in the power of prayer,” Reed, who attends St. Francis Xavier Church and Christ the King Church at LSU, both in Baton Rouge, said.  

Irene Shepherd, a former long-time Governor’s Mansion employee, said of Blanco, “To know her was to love her.”  

“It was a privilege to witness her living her faith in the four years I worked with her,” Shepherd said. “Her strength never waivered. It never changed no matter what she went through. She was filled with grace, faith and hope.” </span id=”10″>

Shepherd, who now works at St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, said when someone was having a tough time “she was always there to pick them up,” visiting hospitals, nursing homes and homes of family and friends in need. Blanco’s, son, Ben, died in 1997 at 19 years old in an industrial accident, after which she was often by the side of people grieving the loss of a child.  

“She considered that her ministry, because she had ‘been there and done that,’ ” said Shepherd.  

She and Erin Mosely, also a parishioner of St. Aloysius who served as director of scheduling for Blanco, visited with the former governor the Wednesday before she died.  

“She was in her recliner and she had a smile on her face. She wanted to know how people were doing,” said Shepherd.  

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Gov. John Bel Edwards, former Gov. Bobby Jindal and other members of former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s administration joined family and friends for an ecumenical interfaith memorial service Thursday, Aug. 22. Blanco died Sunday, Aug. 18, almost two years after being diagnosed with ocular melanoma.

 

She added with a catch in her voice, “It’s been a hard time for all of us, but we know she is in a better place.”  

Mosely, who was 19 when she started working for Blanco, said, “I really grew into adulthood with her in my life.”  

She noted that legislative sessions often overlapped with Lent, yet Blanco was determined to attend daily Mass and asked her to schedule around that as much as possible. 

“She would say, ‘Get me to Mass,’ ” Mosely said, noting that Blanco attended different church parishes to accomplish this.  

Blanco would often attend noon Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral, where she developed a relationship with then-pastor Father Jerry Young, retired. When she was unable to attend noon Mass she would often attend a later evening Mass at Christ the King Church and Catholic Center in Baton Rouge, where she developed a relationship with then-pastor Father Than Vu.  

Mosely said Blanco made her decisions based on what she thought was best for the people.  

“I think she was always able to put her head on her pillow at night knowing that she did the best she could,” said Mosely.  

Concerning that last visit with Blanco, Mosely said, “She was at peace. She was accepting and knew what was going to happen and that her time was coming. She knew she would see Ben on the other side.”  

Dan Juneau, a member of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Baton Rouge and retired president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, knew Blanco for many years, beginning when he was working with the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and she was working for the U.S. Department of Commerce and working with her husband and other things.  

In 1983, Blanco was elected as the first woman legislator from the city of Lafayette. She served five years in the Louisiana House of Representatives. In her first term, she and her friend, Evelyn Blackmon of West Monroe, were two of only five women in the Legislature.  

“She had a different perspective from most of the men in the Legislature. She was interested in how it would affect the people in her area,” Juneau said.  

He said that did not change throughout her political career, adding that when he contacted Blanco, she would again ask, “How will this help the people of Louisiana?”  

“I respected her greatly,” said Juneau, who noted that she had a strong Christian faith and was honest.  

The former governor also loved the outdoors and had a hunting and fishing license and was proud of her Cajun roots, according to Juneau.  

“She had the very essence of Louisiana and put it in a political framework,” Juneau said.  

He added. “I hope God sends us public servants of her caliber in the future.”