St. Margaret Mary’s heart has stayed true to Jesus
At the 50th anniversary Mass of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Slidell Aug. 16, Archbishop Gregory Aymond told a packed church that the vibrant parish modeled the spiritual passion displayed by its patroness, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun who died in 1690 and had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“While she was being anointed on her death bed, she said, ‘I need nothing but God and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus,’” Archbishop Aymond said. “It is my humble privilege today to thank you for your faith, for your building up of this community, for the firm foundation that your founding mothers and fathers established. You have shown us that the words of St. Margaret Mary are true: We need nothing but God and to lose ourselves in the heart of Christ.”
The Mass opened the 50th anniversary year for the northshore parish, established on Aug. 17, 1965, by Archbishop John P. Cody.
Name had a personal touch
Archbishop Aymond said the parish got its name in an interesting way: the mother of Benedictine Father Timothy Pugh, the parish’s founding pastor, was named Margaret Mary, in honor of the French saint who had visions of Jesus appearing to her, always showing himself “with his heart exposed and his heart on fire with love for us.”
Thus, Archbishop Cody agreed to name the parish St. Margaret Mary.
In the first year of its founding, the parish celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Slidell while the school building and cafeteria were being built in near-record time. The school opened in 1966, and Father Pugh received permission in 1967 to begin celebrating Mass in the school cafeteria, where Masses were held for the next 10 years until the current church was built by Msgr. Richard Carroll.
Over the last 50 years, especially with the growth of northshore population, St. Margaret Mary thrived and expanded its physical plant to include a rectory; two additional side wings to the church; an evangelization building and library, which is open to the public; and an early childhood development center for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Father Pugh died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1969, and Msgr. Carroll was appointed pastor in 1970, serving for 29 years as pastor until retiring in 1999. Msgr. Carroll, whose own spirituality had been deeply influenced by pilgrimages to Medjugorje, created the evangelization center as a way to strengthen Catholics in their faith and also bring in those who were away from the church, parishioners said.
Msgr. Carroll: A big dreamer
“He would dream it and it would happen,” said Renee Lemoine, a longtime parish secretary and parish facilitator. “He could foresee things. I remember going to a meeting at the archdiocese where they were talking about evangelization, and I told Father Carroll, ‘We not only have evangelization, but we’ve already built the building.’ He would see things before their time.”
The parish library regularly lends out Catholic books to anyone who is interested. The only requirement is that a person checking out a book signs for it.
“It’s on the honor system,” Lemoine said. “You come in and you get the book.”
There hasn’t been a problem with books gone missing, she said, smiling.
“I think the penance is like 100 days in purgatory,” Lemoine said. “So, you’re going to bring that book back.”
Among the more than 50 parish ministries is the perpetual adoration chapel established 32 years ago by Msgr. Carroll.
“I think perpetual adoration has been just a tremendous part of this parish,” said Msgr. Lanaux Rareshide, who served as pastor from 1999 until June 2015, when he retired and was succeeded by Father Edward Grice. “For me, personally, it was a big boon for my spirituality over the years, and I think it affected the whole character of the parish. This is a loving parish. That’s what I found when I got here, and that’s what has remained.”
School was always top notch
St. Margaret Mary School was staffed initially by the Benedictine Sisters in 1966 and later by the Dominican sisters. Bobby Ohler is now going into his 25th year as principal. The school was recognized in 1999 as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
“The school and parish have historically had a good, working relationship,” Ohler said. “One of the highlights of our year is the seventh-grade retreat. Our older students get an experience of a relationship with God, which is just before they move on to high school.”
Lemoine said Msgr. Rareshide’s ability to be a loving, calming presence has rubbed off on every parishioner.
“He always looks at both sides,” Lemoine said. “I remember one time the secretaries were talking about a guy who had a cell phone while he
was in line for Communion, and we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And Father Rareshide was saying, ‘You don’t know, maybe he was a doctor, maybe he was waiting on a call, maybe he had a mother dying.’ He always looks at the other side. Always.”
The parish and school have other events planned for the jubilee year. The parish fair will be held Oct. 23-25, when the school’s first graduating class of 1967 will be recognized. The school also will have its annual fund-raiser on April 16, 2016, carrying on the 50th anniversary theme.
Father Grice has been pastor less than two months, but he has picked up on the parish’s special charism.
“I have come to appreciate that everybody is always in tune with the heartbeat of Jesus,” Father Grice said.