St. Nicholas of Myra: A resurrection
It took a long time, but the parishioners of St. Nicholas of Myra now have their church back.
On March 8, Archbishop Gregory Aymond dedicated the rebuilt church established in 1971 but shuttered since Hurricane Katrina’s waters wiped out everything but the steel beam frame, concrete slab and metal roof supported by 2-by-6 tongue-and-groove beams.
“I feel like I’m going to burst I’m so excited,” said parishioner Linda Giroir, who with husband Gene were recognized during the Mass with a plaque for helping spearhead the rebuilding along with parishioner Hill Wegener.
“Until 2010, there was nothing out here,” Gene Giroir said, mentioning how the entire area was devastated and residents were slow to return. “There was nothing left, but the church stayed.”
Archbishop Aymond welcomed back and blessed a standing-room-only crowd at St. Nicholas. He joked how the last time he was invited there, he celebrated Mass in a bar before the church was built. It was the only time in his 38-year priesthood he had done that.
He called the day an important and historic day in the life of this parish to celebrate and to lovingly remember their former pastor of 29 years, Father Arthur “Red” Ginart, who “gave his life and literally lost his life caring for this flock” by staying inside the church in August 2005 during the “unwelcomed guest called Katrina that came and wouldn’t leave.”
“Many lives have changed,” Archbishop Aymond said, and “since that time, it’s been a time of challenge, but more importantly a time of rebuilding. Katrina took a lot from you and certainly took your pastor. But, Katrina did not take away your faith, your perseverance, your courage to rebuild or your faith in God.”
Archbishop Aymond said it was the faith of people’s hearts, their perseverance, determination, generosity and hard work that made the church’s reopening possible.
“I thank God for you, for your vision and your generosity,” he said.
Several former parishioners such as Ed Hadley, now living in Alexandria, La., participated in the opening Mass. The emotion of the event was evident as Hadley choked up several times as lector at the Mass. Father Ginart’s family also was present and were bearers of the cross and offertory gifts.
Home at last
St. Nicholas of Myra’s revival is an example of how Jesus walks with us through devastation and brings new life. Parishioners said they didn’t know what was going to happen to their parish after the storm. Several were making a 40-mile trek weekly to attend Mass at Resurrection of Our Lord Church in New Orleans East, then pastored by Father MichaelJoseph Nguyen, and they asked him to help them rebuild.
“We’re Roman Catholic, but we were roaming Catholics having to travel many miles to go to church every week,” Wegener said.
Gene Giroir said Father MichaelJoseph agreed to arrange a meeting with Archbishop Aymond to see if a possibility existed to reopen. Giroir remembers the conversation going like this: Archbishop Aymond turned to Father MichaelJoseph and asked, “MichaelJoseph, can you do this?” He answered, “Yes, archbishop, I can do this.”
Work began in 2012 to restore the church, and by September 2013, the majority of construction was finished, Giroir said. Unexpectedly, Father MichaelJoseph died. Since he had arranged much of the volunteer labor and had plans in his head not on paper, it took longer than expected to complete, Giroir said.
Help from so many
The archdiocese played a role in supplying many of the sacred objects inside the church. Giroir said St. Nicholas of Myra’s current wooden altar came from St. Clement of Rome, and candleholders, an incensor, crucifixes and carved Way of the Cross came from the archdiocese’s archives.
Other elements have miraculous stories. St. Nicholas’ original tabernacle was found shortly after the storm, and the Giroirs restored it.
“It looks like new,” Giroir said.
A Divine Mercy picture – originally bought by former parishioner Mary Butrum from St. Faustina’s convent in Poland and enlarged for St. Nicholas – survived the storm and landed in St. Jane de Chantal in Abita Springs, but made its way back home in its original frame (made by parishioner Anthony Margiotta) in time for the opening.
A crucifix that Father MichaelJoseph brought back from Vietnam hangs prominently behind the altar.
To honor Father Red, his nephew Mike Ginart commissioned a bust of his likeness that sits in the left side altar. It is clothed in a stole he wore that was found on site after the storm.
Giroir called St. Nicholas of Myra a church where everybody knew each other and “would hang around after Mass talking for 30 to 45 minutes.” The new church signaled a reuniting of their community.
“This means we are not going to be in a strange church anymore,” Giroir said. “We will be among family.”
Archbishop Aymond reminded those gathered for the church blessing that during the 40 days of Lent, the Lord reminds us of our goodness but asks us to recognize that we are sinners sometimes who can be forgiven for our sins and experience a conversion of the heart.
“Today, we begin this journey in your new church in a time of Lent, change and repentance,” Archbishop Aymond said. “In many ways as a city, we have been through our Lent with Katrina and other circumstances. As we begin this journey today, we look forward to new life and hope and resurrection in Christ in the next couple of weeks, and we look forward to being able to be witnesses of the risen Christ in our world today.”
St. Nicholas of Myra, which is a mission of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, will celebrate one Mass a week: a vigil at 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Father Victor Cohea is the pastor.