The Very Reverend Father Charles Andrus, SSJ is an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic tradition. He belongs to the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart or for short “The Josephites.” The Josephites are an interracial, intercultural religious community of Catholic Priests and Brothers committed to serving the African American community through the proclamation of the Gospel and personal witness. The Josephites are the only community in the American Catholic Church of its kind. They engage exclusively in advancing the teachings of the Church in the African American community. The men of this order work diligently in the sacramental, educational and pastoral ministry by fostering warm, welcoming parishes. They lead vibrant worship services while maintaining solid Catholic tradition and they are dedicated to the social justice of those in need.
Father Andrus entered the Josephite Community in 1968 and was ordained to the priesthood May 8, 1976. When speaking of his vocation, he says, “I didn’t choose the priesthood. The priesthood chose me.” There are countless parishioners and communities who are grateful for that choice. The following are just a few: Father Andrus served as parochial vicar at Epiphany Church in New Orleans, Louisiana and was instrumental in forming an association for ministry in African American parishes, which later would become the Office of African American Catholic Ministries in New Orleans. As a pastor, Father Andrus served at St. Theresa Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, Our Mother of Mercy and Our Lady Star of the Sea Churches in Houston, Texas and St. Francis Xavier Church in Houston, Texas, where he was appointed the first Vicar of African American Affairs for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. He was also the pastor at St. Brigid Church in Los Angeles, California, where he was appointed Director for the Office of African American Ministries and the African American Catholic Evangelization Center. It is obvious by his impressive bio, that when there is a community in need, Father Andrus is called and sent. That was not more apparent than after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina when he went to the seventh ward— one of the hardest areas hit by the storm— to serve as parochial vicar at Corpus Christi Church.
Saddened and shocked by the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Father Andrus drew on the strength of the Lord to find the determination to rebuild the community. Appointed as the Katrina Recovery Director, Father Andrus designed the Ezra-Nehemiah Project which was based on figures from scripture with the same name. In reference to the project, he said, “I felt like when Nehemiah saw the walls of Jerusalem destroyed and said, ‘We CAN rebuild.’” He described the Ezra-Nehemiah Project as “a pilgrimage for others to see what really took place, to be in prayer, and help in any way they can.” Church groups from all over the country that traveled to New Orleans were housed in a former seminary that slept about 15 people and worked on houses that were damaged in the flood. They did more than that. Under the leadership of Father Andrus, the participants came together to lend support, build encouragement and restore dreams. It was a slow process, but progress was made. Many said it was a remarkable thing to witness the spirit of hope that filled the city, the community and the parishioners despite the surrounding devastation.
Presently, Father Andrus is the pastor at Blessed Sacrament-St. Joan of Arc Church in the Uptown area of New Orleans. Since his arrival, the church has adopted the motto, “An Uptown Church with a Downhome Message” and there is no one better to deliver on that promise than Father Andrus. Aside from all his professional accolades what makes him the most qualified? Well simply put, Father Chuck (as he is affectionately known by all who know him) is a country boy who hails from Lebeau, Louisiana— a small town in the central part of the state. He grew up in Immaculate Conception Church (also a Josephite parish) and was raised on his parents’ farm. These two places were fundamental to the formation of his faith. He received his religious training and was introduced to the Josephite mission at the church; but it was in the midst of God’s creation that wisdom was imparted that would one day be the basis of his preaching.
Father Chuck talks about his central message, style of preaching and upbringing this way: “Country wisdom is a simple way of living. It’s simplistic. There is little ‘sophisticatedness’ to it. There are so many words you can use to convey the message of God’s love, but it all comes down to the same thing— trust. You have to trust God through it all, no matter where you are. If you want to be at peace with yourself, you have to have that sense of trust in God. Whether you’ve been wronged or misinterpreted along the way, you have to put your trust in God. That’s where peace, love and forgiveness play themselves out. And I believe you can only get the kind of wisdom it takes to trust God by reflecting on where you came from. If you never look back, you never learn.”
For Father Chuck, looking back to gain wisdom came from reflecting on his life as a farmer. “Growing up on a farm, my dad used to say to me, ‘God spare.’ That meant whatever God promised, we must trust that He will see it through. I was taught once the farmer put the seed in the ground, he’s done a good work. He has nothing else to do but wait. He can’t make the seed produce. That’s God’s job. And the farmer has to trust that God will make it grow. It is the same with our lives. We can plant seeds, but we have to trust God to produce the harvest. You learn to respect that living so close to the land. The scriptures say, ‘They who wait upon the Lord, He shall renew their strength.’ In the country we would say, ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ Both of those imply trust. Your life’s journey is about figuring out how to do that and that’s pretty tough in today’s world of ‘instantaneous microwave, cell phone desires.’ Country wisdom is simplistic, but not simple as in simple-minded. It’s just not complicated. How do we complicate life? We complicate life with clutter- too many ideas, things and even people. You have so many people in your life that you don’t know who to connect with. We have to learn to simplify.”
Father Chuck also shares how he has drawn wisdom from nature through his connection with animals. “You can learn so much from animals. They share life with you that come from God Himself, the Author of Life. Jesus used animals to illustrate and teach. Like the passage in scripture where He says our Father takes care of the birds in the sky. They are living in total dependence and God is totally dedicated to caring for them. You can also see that watching an animal being born. A baby horse’s legs are so fragile. They depend solely on the mother. Actually, infancy— no matter the species— represents total trust. The mother is on the other side of that trust. Motherhood is not just about giving birth. It’s about accountability. It’s the same with the priesthood. Our dedication is to service. It’s the same with God. He didn’t just put us here without the commitment to take care of us.” Father Chuck goes on to say, “I grew up with dogs and they have always and continue to be a part of my life. As a trainer, you realize you have to deal with them individually as they are all different. But if you raise a dog properly, he will be totally devoted to you. He will be like a shadow and help you learn how to see life. For example, I learned from animals how to be patient with people. You have to have patience with dogs, like you do with people, even when they’re getting on your nerves. You have to have patience with horses too, but it’s a little different. You can appreciate the strength and beauty of a horse. You can ride them and enjoy them, but it is very difficult for some horses to trust their rider. So you have to have patience. If you don’t get an animal to love and trust you, you can never get them to learn from you while training them and that’s the key with God. If you don’t trust God, you will never learn the lessons He’s trying to teach you.”
Father Chuck defines wisdom as, “the culmination of experience you have in God and how He has revealed Himself to you in your experience” which is why he says it is important to look back on your life. “I love my place in New Orleans, but there’s nothing like going home and going out in the fields. Now when I was growing up it was hard work and a struggle to cultivate the land, but now it’s relaxing. I wish I could do it all over again. I would have a better relationship with that rock, but I can say that because I allowed myself to get out and travel around the world. I had the opportunity to feel other places and things and experience the hoopla of the world.”
Father Chuck is definitely a man who has learned to trust God through his willingness to love above all things. As a result, God has kept his life in the eye of the storm. Also, he can give a downhome message in an uptown church because he’s more sophisticated than he gives himself credit for. He is an educated man with a relevant message (who happens to have the app for the daily liturgy downloaded on his smartphone) and if you visit his parish website you can see a picture of him talking to a White House Official. Check the schedule of Masses to attend and see for yourself. With all his heavenly wisdom, he’s one down-to-earth priest. http://www.josephites.org/parish/la/bssj/
Remember to Journey Above Your Expectations