Resurrection’s 50 years special
“Fifty years ago this was a junkyard of tires, but not now,” said Archbishop Gregory Aymond at a Thanksgiving Mass Aug. 18, marking the end of the golden anniversary of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in eastern New Orleans. “It is an active family of faith still committed to Christ and still growing.”
“To remember, to rejoice and to renew,” the theme of the parish’s anniversary year, conveyed the strength of the parish from its humble beginnings, the growth of faith through its many clubs and thriving school with more than 600 students and its survival through tragedies.
“God has used people to make this dream a reality,” Archbishop Aymond said. “The faithful people of Resurrection of Our Lord followed the lead of their pastor (Msgr. Francis Boeshans) and turned a former junkyard into a thriving parish and school with determination, faith and with God’s help.”
Emerged from wooded area
Several founding members of the parish attended the anniversary and remember when a wooded area and dirt road led up to the site of the church.
Alice Delaney, who has lived a few blocks from the parish since 1960, was one of them. Her aunt was the first parish secretary. She and her deceased husband Roe were involved in many parish organizations, including the Mothers’ and Men’s clubs.
“It was a gung-ho parish and still is,” Delaney said. “Father Boeshans was a great administrator. He economized and really watched the money.”
“It really was a little city out here – a city within a city,” another founding member, Mary Perez, said. “Everybody wanted to help out. Father Boeshans welcomed everybody.”
Within 1 1/2 years, the parish built its first church building (originally designed to be a gym), a 12-classroom school and administration building. By 1972, the parish’s indebtedness to the Archdiocese of New Orleans was paid.
Msgr. Boeshans was the first of five pastors at Resurrection. He remained through 1984, when he was reassigned to open another new parish – St. John of the Cross in Lacombe. Father Michael Schneller became the second pastor through 1994. Next up was Father Cyprian Devold through 2002, followed by Father MichaelJoseph Vinh Ngoc Nguyen and now Father Victor Cohea.
Father Nguyen’s tenure was particularly eventful. The parish began talks on whether to finally build a new church or renovate the original structure. Renovations were approved, and a beautiful Gothic altar and historic Stations of the Cross from the closed St. Cecilia Church in Bywater were added.
Delaney’s heart was gladdened when she saw the altar, since St. Cecilia was her childhood parish. She also mentioned that the Marianites who taught her in school also taught her daughter at Resurrection.
Father Nguyen stood tall
By 2004, renovations were completed only to be destroyed by Hurricane Katrina the following year when seven feet of water flooded the church and the entire parish campus. Many parishioners said if it had not been for the work of Father Nguyen, the parish might not have reopened.
He spread the word that he needed help to rebuild and traveled to the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where his brother, Father Dung Nguyen, is a priest. Approximately 100 men from St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell, Ga., volunteered to gut the church and other buildings in November 2005. Father Nguyen celebrated Mass for the men and other parishioners who were in town to survey their own home damage.
“Father MichaelJoseph, if we had not had him then, our church would not be here now,” Mary Perez said.
Perez and her husband Joe, who love Resurrection and sent their four children to the school, made sandwiches for the many volunteers after Katrina.
“Father MichaelJoseph went all over the nation asking for donations,” she said. “We had men from Atlanta. We had people from Oregon, the east coast. People really pitched in and got Resurrection going. It truly was through the intercession of the Holy Spirit and Father MichaelJoseph. It really was wonderful. We were so blessed.”
By Easter 2006, the parish held its first Mass in the meeting room of the pastoral center. Parishioners began returning, and Mass was moved to the restored cafeteria, named after Msgr. Boeshans.
Renovations of the church began anew in August 2006, with Gothic-style pews and cabinetry to match the altar. In April 2007, former Archbishop Alfred Hughes rededicated the church. Many said it is more beautiful now than ever, noting that the long windows of what was supposed to be the gym are now painted to resembled stained glass.
As the parish and school continued to grow, two meditative shrines were added, and construction began in 2012 on a new classroom and multipurpose center that includes a gym. (It opened for the 2013-14 school year.)
Shortly after construction began, arson damaged the old school buildings. Again, Father Nguyen, with then-principal Dr. Si Nguyen, led the way to rebuild quickly.
A bigger blow to the parish was dealt when Father Nguyen unexpectedly suffered a stroke and died Jan. 25, 2013, in the middle of the anniversary celebration. He was the lightning rod of the parish in recent years.
“He did not shirk long hours of hard, physical labor,” said John Browne, a founding parishioner. “When he unexpectedly died of a massive stroke at age 55, I told many people, ‘He worked himself to death.’”
Browne continues to coordinate lectors and freelance ministers for Resurrection 50 years later. His son Timothy graduated from Resurrection School. He and his wife, Betty, now deceased, were very active in the parish.
“The congregation lives up to its name in Resurrection,” he said. “We keep coming back, in one sense, rising from the ashes.”
Several long-time parishioners said they didn’t even consider moving to another church, even after their home had been destroyed by Katrina.
Delaney’s daughter Susan Peck now teaches kindergarten at the school.
“The parish meant so much to her that we came back to our home after Hurricane Katrina to see the parish resurrected,” Peck said. “I had to continue what my mom started.”
Even through all of its challenges over the past five decades, Resurrection of Our Lord Parish has not only survived but has thrived.
“The intercession of the Holy Spirit kept us going,” Mary Perez said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.