Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Deacon Leaves Multifaceted Legacy Of Love

Published December 22, 2005

One wouldn’t have to go far to find someone in the Archdiocese of Atlanta who has attended a retreat at Marian Meadows, a short drive from Atlanta in Dawsonville. Not many, however, may know of the beautiful love story and the test of faith for the man and his family that gave life to the 11-acre sanctuary.

His tale, an amazing journey beginning in the rural town of Larose, La., where he was born, tells of a man who experienced the fullness of life—the recognition of a distinguished career and true love found in marriage, family and his church community—fueled by his constant yearning to seek a closer relationship with Jesus, whom he called his “best friend.”

A successful businessman, Harold Gourgues sought advice from Father John Ulrich, SM, a priest assigned to Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta years ago and who now serves as a campus minister at the Newman Center of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Years following the miraculous recovery of his wife, Geneva, who was near death due to cancer, Gourgues had hoped to find a way to thank God that would benefit children. Father Ulrich suggested building a retreat facility for the youth of the Atlanta Archdiocese, which would also be used by adults.

“Marian Meadows became a place of grace for many people,” Father Ulrich said.

Gourgues’ daughter, Katherine, remembered many a weekend painting or cleaning up after retreats.

“He loved it there—mowing, doing maintenance chores, four-wheeling,” she said.

While the occurrence and the cure of cancer had prompted the creation of Marian Meadows, it was the discovery of Gourgues’ own cancer this year that resulted in the family’s difficult decision to sell the property. The facility remains open for retreats, and the money from the sale will be used to assist youth who wish to attend retreats there.

Few would consider cancer a friend, but for Harold, a beloved husband, father, friend and deacon from OLA, that was how he eventually came to describe his relationship to the pancreatic cancer that brought an end to his life on Aug. 18.

“Love is the power that has further dramatically transformed my life,” Gourgues wrote to family and friends in early summer while undergoing intensive chemotherapeutic treatments. “(It’s) a power that has come to me from God via the conduit of ‘my friend cancer.’ Love, laughter, and yes, some choking tears, too, have surely formed a more perfect union between my soul and my God …”

Geneva’s cure from cancer followed a dramatic visit by Harold to a New Orleans church to recite the Memorare before a statue of Our Lady. Not only was he praying for his wife’s recovery but also because of the state’s adoption laws, her death would put their recent adoption of a daughter in jeopardy. Now years later he stood with his son, Walter, in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta praying the Memorare again and hoping for a miracle cure of his cancer and the strengthening of his faith to accept God’s will for his life.

“He always thought that he was so blessed,” Walter said. “God asked him to take on the biggest challenge—pancreatic cancer. He called cancer, ‘my friend,’ and grew closer to God than anyone really thought was possible.”

Adopted by Harold and Geneva, Walter told those gathered for his father’s funeral, held at OLA, that he and his sister had hit “the adoption lottery.”

“Before he died I told him that he was a modern-day Jesus … He touched so many people around the United States, even around the world.”

Harold first made a name for himself in the business world as a pioneer in the concept of financial planning. Twenty years later, his books and articles remain on the reading lists of business schools. His innovative thinking garnered for him the Robert J. Underwood Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors in 1986. At one point in his career, he retired from a large firm as it was set to peak and began a financial planning newsletter called the “Gourgues Report.”

Geneva Gourgues recalled that even his newsletter “had a spiritual tone to it.”

“He was always about doing what was best for clients and not about what would bring in more money,” she said.

One financial planning firm attributed the following philosophy to the maverick: “To paraphrase financial planner Harold Gourgues, it’s far more important to have enough than to have more.”

Gourgues attributed his approach to financial planning as a sincere desire to help people, whether it was in estate planning or planning for retirement.

Walter, who gave up a demanding catering job to spend more time as “Mr. Mom” to his two young children—Gabrielle, 3, and Hunter, 2—learned from his father’s wisdom.

“One thing he said was that we should not want to be defined by what we have but by whom we have touched. It took him 40 years to figure that out,” Walter explained. “I watched him become so successful and then walk away from that life to a simpler life … I learned how important family is.”

Harold’s commitment to the church changed significantly after his participation in the Christ Renews His Parish retreat at OLA in the 1980s.

“It was a real turning point in his life,” Geneva said. “Harold had always been very spiritual, but the retreat hit him like a lightning bolt.”

A few years later in 1990, Harold became a deacon, and the Gourgues family “shared him a lot with others,” Geneva said.

Deacon Jerry Lett, of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, looked up to Harold.

“Harold was a great communicator, and I was always impressed that a successful businessman committed his life to spreading Christian teaching. He was a great family man, husband, father and friend.”

Adult education was one of Harold’s primary ministries, according to Father Jim McGoldrick, SM, pastor of OLA.

“He was giving spiritual direction to individuals and loved to preach and teach. He loved serving as a deacon for the children’s Mass.”

Two of the children in the pews during the school Masses were Harold’s own grandchildren—Sierra, 10, and Jonah, 8—who now miss their “Papa.”

“I remember catching my first fish with Papa,” said Sierra. “I was so glad he took out the hook for me.”

Brother Jonah remembered “Papa pulling us on the raft behind the boat.”

“He would do it for hours. It was so much fun!”

Friend and fellow deacon Don Kelsey recalled Harold as a “friendly, giving type of guy.”

“He seemed to have the great sense of being able to reach people just where they were.”

Harold also had a sense of humor many appreciated. Whether it was cooking or telling the Cajun “Night Before Christmas,” Harold never forgot his roots.

“We had to take a class in homiletics,” Deacon Kelsey said. “When Harold got up to give his first homily in class, he started it in Cajun.”

More than a few times Geneva had heard Harold say that “he had never met a fool he didn’t like.”

“He was a wonderful human being, very fun-loving, and not someone to be put on a pedestal. He loved people, and he loved God and his best friend, Jesus. The Lord worked through him.”

Harold’s final months of his courageous journey with cancer were no different from those before his physical decline in that they touched and inspired many.

“He would say that the Holy Spirit just guided him,” Geneva explained. “He felt everybody had struggles, difficulties, suffering. You can either make the best of it or just crawl into a hole. Look what Christ went through for us.”

Toward the end of his illness the “Med Updates,” as Harold coined the e-mails sent to family and friends sharing his latest news on treatment, were at times dictated to or typed by Katherine.

“He was still making an attempt to reach out to others,” she recalled. “He believed that through hardship we learn more about ourselves. The message was that we grow stronger.”

In his last update, Harold spoke of climbing the ladder “to greater heights” in his relationship with God.

“Kingdom living is our great satisfaction where the air we breathe is Divine, where we come not to quiz God about Dogma or Doctrine or Law, but of Spirit and Presence, where we come to simply abide in our loving God.”

There is a place not far down the road where the air is clean and time stops momentarily for a clearer view of “kingdom living.” Whether a memory or an invitation, for many that place was and still is Marian Meadows, thanks to one man and his family.