HAMMOND — Cheryl Sears was somber as she walked inside Holy Ghost Catholic Church Saturday for the funeral services of the Rev. Edward “Ed” Elms Everitt.
“He just loved the kids, and he was instrumental in the Early Learning Center being built,” said Sears, an employee of Holy Ghost Catholic School.
“He wanted to see that happen,” Sears said of the opening of the new facility.
Everitt, 71, a Dominican priest and pastor at Hammond and Tickfaw churches, was robbed and then fatally shot last Sunday at a Waveland, Miss., beach house used as a cottage getaway by Hammond’s Dominican community.
Everitt had gone to the beach house after Mass last Sunday, and a caretaker of the beach house discovered Everitt’s body late Monday, authorities said.
Hundreds of family members, parishioners and community members attended Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. services.
Before taking her seat just before 1 p.m. in the already packed church, Sears described Everitt as a helpful person.
“Just whatever you needed, whether you were a school employee, a parishioner or someone off of the street, he was there to help,” Sears said.
“He was always for the little guy, always for the underdog,” she said.
Bishop Robert William Muench of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, who initially expressed shock upon learning of Everitt’s death, said Saturday “Everitt was a strong person, and he embraced the priesthood with a fullness that left no doubt what he was called to do.
“He served the community with a vibrancy and zeal that will make his life for those who knew him live on as long as we live,” Muench said.
Muench said the violence that caused Everitt’s death had inflicted a deeper grief because “Father Everitt was very much still interested in serving.
“This is such a tragedy beyond ability to describe,” Muench said. “For all who are grieving, we entrust him to God and anyone responsible for his loss as well.”
Muench asked parishioners to pray for “whoever is responsible for his loss of life in this violent way.”
The suspect in the robbery and fatal shooting, John Manieri, 31, confessed to the slaying and agreed to extradition back to Mississippi, the Polk County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office reported Wednesday afternoon.
Manieri, who had taken his former wife and their two children to Florida in the priest’s vehicle, already had their three-day passes to Disney World when the sheriff’s SWAT team stormed their motel room Tuesday morning, said Donna Wood, a Sheriff’s Office public information officer. Manieri had stepped out to smoke a cigarette when he saw the SWAT team, and he rushed back into the room with the team barging in after him, she said.
For his friend and former associate pastor of Holy Ghost, the Rev. Cayat Mangiaracina, who served with Everitt for five years, the loss is difficult.
“He was preaching on Sunday morning and Sunday night this thing happens,” Mangiaracina said.
As he bowed his head and shed a tear, Mangiaracina said the tragedy of what happened makes Everitt’s death much harder to understand.
“He was a good friend,” Mangiaracina said. “We’d gather at about 8 a.m. for morning prayer and 5 p.m. for the evening prayer.”
Mangiaracina said the two would also get together and watch some of their favorite television shows — “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “The Mentalist” and “Blue Bloods.”
Mangiaracina said he nicknamed Everitt “Fast Eddie,” because he would keep weekday Masses short — and ask him to do the same in his absence — so parishioners could get to work on time.
But Saturday’s Mass focused, not on brevity, but on celebrating Everitt’s life, something the Rev. Christopher Eggleton, of the Dominican Order, to which Everitt belonged, said Everitt knew how to do well.
Eggleton went on to describe Everitt as lover of life, and one with an infectious energy.
Eggleton asserted that it would be impossible for anyone to hold a candle to the “steam locomotive energy of Father Everitt.” He added that “Father Everitt was not a wilted wall flower. He was a dynamic creature.”
Eggleton said Everitt advocated prayer study, loved to decorate the church, delighted in classical music and was always hospitable.
“Father Everitt was quite an exuberant character,” Eggleton said.
Mangiaracina described his friend in much the same manner, calling him a “very outgoing person.”
“He loved people,” Mangiaracina said. “He loved to get people together.
“He had a vision for the future … especially with the renovations going on — the new learning center.
“He was a very loveable guy who had a lot of friends,” Mangiaracina said.
Everitt, a native of Houston, joined the Dominicans in 1962 and six years later was ordained a priest in Iowa, according to the order’s Southern Province.
Everitt’s second cousin, Mary Finney, of New Orleans, still remembers attending his first Mass in Houston.
Finney said Everitt would also say Mass at family reunions and “helped us feel like more of a family.”
At those family gatherings, Everitt would bring with him a family heirloom — an 18th century Bible that was given to his grandparents as a wedding gift.
Early in his career, from 1973 to 1979, Everitt served in the campus ministry at Southeastern Louisiana University. He served at Holy Ghost for the past six years.
While his education took him to the University of Houston, Loras College of Dubuque, Iowa, Dubuque’s Aquinas Institute of Theology and Notre Dame University in Indiana, and his ministry to even more places, Mangiaracina said Everitt had hopes of retiring in Hammond.
Following Saturday’s Mass, Everitt’s brother, John Everitt, shared stories about his brother, and when not choking back tears, joked about the late priest’s exuberant personality.
As a way to celebrate his brother’s life, John Everitt asked those gathered to “tell a story out loud to a person in front or behind you about a way Father Ed Everitt touched your life.”
Within seconds, the silence in the church broke into murmurings just louder than a whisper.
“He’ll be leaving his legacy behind with the early childhood center,” said Cathy LeBlanc, former Holy Ghost Catholic school principal. “He helped this parish to just flourish.”