Baton Rouge priest killed in a car crash remembered for his holiness, passion for truth

Father Mark Beard Father Mark Beard, pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church in Amite City, Louisiana, died in a car accident Aug. 2, 2023. | Credit: Diocese of Baton Rouge

A Louisiana priest who was killed in a car accident last Wednesday is being remembered in his home diocese for his commitment to the truth as taught by the Catholic faith as well as his unwavering devotion to the Blessed Mother. 

Father Mark Beard, 62, was pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church in Amite City, Louisiana, about an hour northeast of Baton Rouge. Bishop Michael Duca announced Beard’s death on Aug. 2. 

During what was to be his final Sunday Mass on July 30, Beard preached about not being “on the fence” when it comes to faith in Christ, telling the congregation that “the only thing that matters is your soul.” 

“Please, for the love of God remember this. The nanosecond after you and I die … you have already been judged, and you are in heaven, hell, or purgatory, that’s it … I’m telling you, you can’t pick and choose. Either he’s the great I Am, or he’s not; you can’t go running both ways.”

“You need to know the truth,” Beard continued.

“I am not going to stand before him and say, ‘Well, Lord, I would have pitched it but you know there’s going to be pushback’ ... my brothers in Christ, my job is to pitch it. Whether you want to catch it or not is on you. My job is to make sure you know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

Beard was born in Baton Rouge and worked for many years at his family’s business, Beard Engineering and United Industries, before hearing a call to the priesthood after a 2000 visit to Medjugorje, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina and site of alleged Marian apparitions. A serial dater before entering the seminary — though he never married — Beard said his closeness to Mary led to his view that “you can’t have two women in your life.”

Beard entered Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans in 2004 and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge on May 30, 2009, at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. He was pastor of St. Helena for the past 12 years, and his devotion to Mary continued throughout his life. A few years ago, Beard and a local businessman bought a former girl’s school in Osyka, Mississippi, and turned it into Our Lady of Hope Catholic Retreat Center, a sprawling complex that includes many gardens devoted to Mary. 

Beard previously earned a master’s degree in business administration from Louisiana State University and went on to earn a master’s in divinity degree (M.Div) while at seminary. He also received a certification in spirituality (spiritual direction) and divinity, according to his obituary. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Catholic and a Democrat who largely holds pro-life views, said he and his wife had been close personal friends with Beard since 2011. Edwards and his wife, Donna, are from Amite and attend St. Helena.

“We watched him revitalize our church. And not just with the attendance, not just with the people who were coming to church who didn’t come before, although that was a big part of it, but it was so much more than that,” Edwards said, as reported by the diocese.

“I think the fact that he became a priest relatively late in life and he had a lot of other experiences in the business world and so forth, and traveling around, that he was able to relate to people perhaps better than, or at least differently, than priests who hadn’t had that experience.”

Beard is survived by his mother, Florence, as well as several siblings, nieces and nephews, and a great-niece. 

A public visitation will be held at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge on Thursday, Aug. 10, from 8:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of Mercy with the diocesan clergy present, according to the diocese. 

Visitation for parishioners of St. Helena Church will be held at the St. Helena Parish Hall in Amite on Friday, Aug. 11, from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. with a funeral Mass celebrated at St. Helena Church for family members and for St. Helena parishioners at 11 a.m. Burial will follow at Amite Memorial Gardens in Amite.

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