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Divine Mercy gears up for new church building

“There’s a good spirit and a lot of people involved,” said Father David Dufour, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish, about the progress to build a new Catholic church in northwest Kenner.

Divine Mercy, the result of a 2009 merger of Nativity of Our Lord and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes in north Kenner, has worked hard to meld as one parish. Having a single worship space – currently Masses are celebrated at both former church sites, and the parish school remains at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – will help.

“It’s like a marriage,” Father Dufour said. “When a husband and wife move in together, there’s a unity. It’s more than symbolic. ... The physical proximity and being able to have a common place, common facilities and one common name (will make a difference).”


Father Dufour has been encouraged by the hundreds of volunteers who worked on the “Fulfilling Our Promise” campaign. A creative giving seminar explaining pledges, non-cash gifts and deferred gifts and letters to parishioners were part of the campaign as is a “Campaign Messenger” newsletter.

The campaign culminated in a Commitment Weekend June 9-10 where volunteers gave testimonies and answered questions, followed by a light lunch. Its purpose was to excite everyone about what’s being done in an effort to raise a minimum of $3 million in commitments.

“We have hundreds of gift commitments already,” Father Dufour said, including from non-parishioners. “You start to build relationships and a common goal, and it forms a sense of unity in the parish.”

The next step in the campaign will be home visits and a phone-a-thon.


Archdiocese aiding process

While the idea of a new church is relatively recent in the history of Divine Mercy Parish, members of the former St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish had worked for more than two decades to build a new church. The archdiocese bought the 18.6-acre site in 2001 for $1.6 million.

At a groundbreaking ceremony May 5, Archbishop Gregory Aymond acknowledged that long journey. He  said the faith and determination of Catholics in Kenner made the new church a reality.

“I thank you in God’s name for your faith and your perseverance,” he said. 

Parishioners were invited to place soil from their homes in the location of the future altar “as a commitment to follow Jesus, who is the foundation of this church,” the archbishop said. “From all of your homes, this church will rise ... will be a place of faith.”

“I think it’s a unifier for our two parishes,” long-time parishioner Frank Raab said at the groundbreaking.

The archdiocese has made several concessions for Divine Mercy to start the project. They include initially waiving the repayment cost of the land, allowing Phase I construction to begin without the usual requirement of half of construction costs raised, and agreeing to a 30-year loan without interest until Phase I and II are completed.


Three phases planned

Phase I of the construction of the new parish complex is projected to begin in the next few months and take approximately 400 days, Father Dufour said. Post Architects and F.H. Myers are working with the parish on the project.

Slated for Phase I are the 20,000-square-foot, 900- to 1,000-seat church, a rectory and a community center. Modifications have been made to the plans to bring the project under budget, Father Dufour said. The projected cost of Phase I is $11,642,000 including furnishings.

Phase II will include the educational complex of four buildings: early childhood, elementary and middle school, an enrichment classroom and school administration center and a dining center. Phase II cost is roughly $11 million.

Already, Divine Mercy has raised and expended $2.5 million for design work, site preparation, soil testing and fill on the new site. The balance of the $24 million project will come from a new, parish capital campaign, a $20,000-a-year lease agreement with Verizon Wireless (has an antennae on site), an archdiocesan loan and sale of existing properties.

A third phase also is anticipated.

“We hope to build a gymnasium and youth center in the future and possibly a bridge over the canal to have access to Joe Yenni Boulevard,” Father Dufour said.


Design of church

Parishioners had input on the design and use of the parish site through liturgical education meetings. A cruciform-style (in the form of a cross) church was deemed most popular. 

The new church will incorporate items from the two current churches. From Nativity, five stained-glass Joyful Mystery panels and pews from its adoration chapel will be installed in the new adoration chapel, as will the Tree of Life sculpture and statue of Jesus commemorating the unborn.

Father Jeffrey Montz, parochial vicar and liturgical furnishing committee member of the building committee, said the large statues of the Blessed Mother, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Joseph, and an image of Blessed John Paul II will come from the St. Elizabeth site. 

“It’s a beautiful church, and I really think it will be very effective and helpful in praying and participating in the liturgy for all parishioners,” Father Dufour said.

Father Dufour sees the new site as furthering the sense of unity, belonging and fellowship for the merged parishes. It will firm Divine Mercy’s ministry and purpose.

“I think it will help everyone to both deal with some of the difficult aspects of the merger and embrace the blessings of the merger and our call of God to us as Divine Mercy Parish,” he said.

Parishioner E.J. Cox is a building committee member and joyfully anticipates the completion of the new church.

“I think it’s really going to bring the two former parishes into one community body,” he said. “Even though we’ve made great strides to be one parish, being in one building is going to make a great step forward for our community. We’ve been appreciative to the archdiocese for the concessions they’ve made.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion