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Newly ordained priest returns to spiritual roots

Ties to a church where a Catholic has spent formative years are embedded in the heart, as was evidenced on June 16 when approximately 200 people turned out at St. Lawrence the Martyr Church in Metairie to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for one of their own who was ordained a priest weeks earlier – Father Travis Clark.
      People who spent their elementary years at the school were present as were deacons, parents who raised their children in the parish – which merged with Our Lady of Divine Providence in October 2008 – or had volunteered for many years. And, of course, there were many who knew Father Clark personally.
  The turnout astonished Father Clark. He had expected the congregation to include family, close friends and a few former parishioners he could reach. But news about the Thanksgiving Mass spread on Facebook, by word of mouth and in the Clarion Herald and, there were so many receiving Communion that the initial 100 hosts ran out.
    Father Clark said it was important for him to celebrate Mass at St. Lawrence because his Catholic spiritual formation took root there, having attended the parish school from pre-kindergarten through third grade. Other memories included going to summer camp.
    “I first received the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist in this church,” he told the crowd.
    Father Clark also was impacted by joyful days spent in the rectory talking to seminarians and priests during the 10 years his mother, Joani, served as the pastor’s cook.
    “They became good role models for me,” Father Clark said about the priests with whom he was in contact. “My foundation for the Catholic faith was made here. I wouldn’t be here today without all of my teachers.”
Special anniversary
   Father Clark said as he began planning this Mass, he discovered something else significant though bittersweet about the timing of the Mass. June marked the month 55 years ago when the archdiocese founded the parish of St. Lawrence in Metairie.
    Diane Plauche, who was one of Father Clark’s catechism teachers and a former neighbor, helped coordinate the Mass with approval from Father Mike Mitchell (pastor at Our Lady of Divine Providence) and Father Lance Campo, former director of the Hispanic Apostolate that now occupies the majority of the St. Lawrence campus.
    Plauche said the celebration gave former St. Lawrence parishioners an opportunity to rekindle old friendships while wishing their Father Clark  congratulations.
    “It’s like home for us,” she said about St. Lawrence. “I am so proud of Travis and what he has become.”    
    Stephanie Robert, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at the Mass who had served in that role at the former St. Lawrence Parish, said the Mass brought her to tears.
    “To see somebody from here continue to bring the Lord to other people through ministry and to join together with our own faith family which we were so close to before,” made it so memorable, she said.
 “He’s a fine priest,” said Denise Tabor, who met Father Clark when he was a seminarian and assigned to St. Ann Parish in Metairie. Tabor had attended St. Lawrence Elementary and said she was part of a quilting ministry at St. Ann that seminarian Clark would take time to visit during their meetings.
    “We were thrilled he came back,” she said.  “You could see that he was going to be a great priest. As far as I can see, he will do great things and bring many people in the church.”
    For Father Clark, a chance to celebrate Mass and preach to his friends and family at St. Lawrence was outstanding.
    “It’s an awesome feeling having received my first Communion here,” he said. “It was the main reason I wanted to come back. It was an opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist and give the Lord to others so that he may be present to them.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion

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