CV NEWS FEED // Fr. Mark Beard, a fixture of his rural Louisiana community, passed away in a tragic car accident Wednesday afternoon. He was 62.
Bishop Michael G. Duca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge asked “for prayers for Fr. Beard and his family, parishioners, and friends who mourn his loss.”
Fr. Mark served as the pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church in Amite, LA, for over a decade. Amite (pronounced ay-meet) is a small city of four thousand people not far from the Mississippi border. Located in a heavily Protestant area of the state, it contains dozens of churches of multiple denominations, with St. Helena being its sole Catholic church.
A local pillar, Fr. Mark was adored not just by Amite residents but by people throughout the entire surrounding region. Parishioners came far and wide to hear him preach the Gospel.
Through God’s grace, the late St. Helena pastor took great pride in the beautification of his parish grounds. He added life-sized statues of the 12 Apostles and Our Lady, a life-sized replica of the Garden of Gethsemane, an exhibit detailing the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, and a perpetual adoration chapel.
He also produced detailed faith-formation packets on a variety of topics, which are on sale at the parish store. Among these is a roughly-fifty page volume, printed in full color, on the Defense of Holy Mother Church.
“I hope and pray that someday our paths will cross,” he said at the end of his welcome video on St. Helena’s YouTube channel.
A Louisiana native, Fr. Mark received his call to the priesthood while approaching middle age. At the time, he was a successful businessman and stated that he was “bullet-proof, and liked money, power, and ‘dating’—the unholy Trinity.”
“I did avoid drugs or alcohol, but that’s because I was too busy chasing women,” he said.
This all changed during a trip to the pilgrimage site of Medjugorje, which he had embarked on as “an angry skeptic.” There, as he wrote shortly after his ordination,
I went to Confession for the first time in years. And toward the end of the trip, I found myself sharing my heart with another pilgrim, an honest, kind, prayerful man–a former Protestant pastor, who had sacrificed a lot to become a Catholic. He said to me spontaneously, “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Are you sure you’re not supposed to be a priest?”
Obviously, the story didn’t end there . . .
Fr. Mark also helped open Our Lady of Hope, one of the most beautiful retreat centers in the Deep South.
In addition, the one-of-a-kind priest was known for his eloquent and inspirational homilies, which he posted to his parish YouTube channel, and had many thousands of viewers around the world.
His homilies would usually begin with a true story from history, especially the Civil War, World War II, or the early life of a film actor. Fr. Mark would then tie everything back beautifully to the day’s Gospel and the carefully-chosen title of the homily.
He often used stories of ordinary people who became famous or noteworthy. Many times, he would initially refer to the person by a name other than the one they are primarily known as (for example, “Edmund” for the late Godfather actor James Edmund Caan), and his parishioners would try to guess who the person was as the homily progressed.
Fr. Mark lovingly referred to his flock as his “Brothers and Sisters in Christ,” a catchphrase he would often repeat and reinforce at least a dozen times throughout each homily.
In his last homily, titled “On the Fence / No Exceptions,” given just three days before his death, he said, “Our best players in scripture are those who are able to delineate whether they’re all in or all out. You can’t ride the fence.”
St. Helena parishioner Katie Corkern took to social media upon hearing of his passing. She shared how Fr. Mark touched her life through his loving embrace of her son, Connor, who has special needs.
“He was unlike any other priest we had met at that time,” Corkern said. “He wanted to know all about [Connor], he embraced all his sounds in mass citing them as Connor preaching the gospel.”
He was overjoyed to help Connor make his first communion & receive the Eucharist – something many people with developmental disabilities aren’t given the opportunity to do. He often commented on how well Connor carried his cross and he was always there in our darkest hours over the years, texting or calling to remind us to keep the faith.
Few priests leave a mark on a community so deeply, but this man did on all he met whether they were Catholic or not. He was ours & he made us better. I know many miracles will happen through his intercession.
Through God’s providence, I had the absolute privilege and honor of meeting Fr. Mark just two months before his passing.
As a fellow history-buff and movie fan, I have been a big fan of his homilies for quite some time. They truly changed my life, and led me to embrace the fullness of my Catholic faith, in a way I never had before.
So this last Memorial Day weekend, I decided to drive nine hours each way just to see one in person.
To say Fr. Mark did not disappoint is to make the understatement of the century.
What I observed when I arrived at St. Helena was breathtaking. The pews were packed with faithful Catholics young and old. When I stepped inside of church, it had to be 20, 30 minutes before Mass began, and I could hardly find a seat. I’ve been to many parishes across the country and I’ve never once seen anything quite like this before.
Fr. Mark had a very unique, yet very reverent, way of saying Mass. Without a doubt, it was a God-given gift.
He took the time to explain the meaning of the first and second readings – and even the responsorial psalm – and how everything was connected. And that is, of course, not to mention his legendary homilies. He truly embodied the Scripture passage “Go forth and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
All of this gave the St. Helena parishioners a profound appreciation of our faith that every Catholic church should strive to emulate.
After Mass, I, like the rest of the faithful, joined the long line to speak to Father. When my turn came, I shook his hand and thanked him for everything he did.
Then, I asked one question: “How is it, Fr. Mark, that you came to be so on fire with the Holy Spirit?”
He simply replied that all he did was because of his deep love for and devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother.
Fr. Mark was so humble, so selfless. He completely gave everything he had to Christ and Our Lady. Truly, he was a shepherd of his flock.
I spent a few more hours touring the parish grounds. Upon leaving, I saw Fr. Mark one final time.
Again, I thanked him and spoke to him for a few more minutes.
He thanked me for coming. I told him I would be back to see him soon, this time with my family and perhaps a group from my home parish in Jacksonville, FL. That day never came.
Rest in Peace, Fr. Mark, our Brother in Christ and, forever, one of our best players.