Nonco studied to become a teacher, and taught public school in a rural area near his hometown before becoming the only lay member of the faculty of the Little Flower School in Arnaudville.
While studying to be a teacher, Nonco also became a member of The Apostleship of Prayer, an organization that originated in France and whose charism is to promote and spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to pray for the pope. His devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus would come to color Nonco's whole life.
"Nonco was known for his passionate devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary," Hardy said.
"He devoutly attended daily Mass and served wherever he was needed. Perhaps most inspiringly, with a rosary looped around his arm, Nonco traversed the highways and byways of his community, spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
He would travel country roads on foot to visit the sick and those in need, and would refuse rides from neighbors even in the harshest of weather, because he considered his walks an act of penance for the conversion of souls on Earth and the purification of those in purgatory, Hardy added.
"He was truly a door-to-door evangelist," Hardy said. On weekends, Nonco taught religion to public school students and organized The League of the Sacred Heart, which distributed monthly pamphlets around the community about the devotion. He also organized creative plays for Christmas time and other special feasts that portrayed biblical stories, lives of the saints, and devotion to the Sacred Heart in dramatic fashion.
"By the use of drama, he shared a passionate love of Christ with his students and the entire community. In this way, he opened not only the minds but the hearts of his students," Hardy said. Nonco's pastor referred to Nonco as another priest in his parish, and Nonco was eventually awarded the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice medal by Pope Pius XII in 1953, "in recognition of his dedicated and humble service to the Catholic Church," Hardy said.
"This papal decoration is one of the highest honors awarded to the members of the lay faithful," Hardy added. "For 24 more years until his death in 1977, at the age of 89, Nonco continuously spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for a total of 68 years until the day he died on June 6, 1977, which was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," Hardy said.
Fr. Mark Ledoux, a representative for the Friends of Fr. Joseph Verbis LaFleur, said at ceremony on Saturday that the military chaplain is most remembered for his heroic service during World War II.
"Fr. Joseph Verbis LaFleur lived an extraordinary life in just 32 years," Ledoux said.
Lafleur was born on January 24, 1912 in Ville Platte Louisiana. Although he came from "very humble beginnings…(and) a broken home," LaFleur had long dreamed of being a priest, Ledoux said.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
During his summer breaks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Lafleur would spend his time teaching catechism and first communicants.
He was ordained a priest on April 2, 1938 and requested to be a military chaplain, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially, his request was denied by his bishop, but when the priest asked a second time, it was granted.
"As a chaplain he displayed heroism beyond the call of duty, earning the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest honor for valor," Ledoux noted.
"However it was as a Japanese prisoner of war that Lafleur would reveal the intensity of his love" and holiness.
"Though kicked, slapped and beaten by his captors, he always sought to better the conditions of his fellow POWs," Ledoux said.
"He even let pass opportunities for his escape in order to remain where he knew his men needed him."