150 years of faith shine at St. Peter, Reserve
Generations of families have called St. Peter Church in Reserve their faith home.
On April 5, hundreds came out to pay tribute at the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, followed by dinner in the school auditorium.
“It’s an icon on the (Mississippi) river,” said E.J. Guidry III, a parish council member whose grandchildren are the fourth generation of his family associated with the Catholic parish in Reserve. “It’s been here 150 years and is the best-kept secret.”
He said the people and the traditions of the parish have made it strong over the years, so strong that its former students, parishioners and altar servers braved the rain to be part of the celebration.
Beloved pastor not forgotten
No one can mention the parish’s history without recalling the contributions of its longest-serving pastor, Msgr. Jean Eyraud, who led St. Peter from 1916 to 1963. Guidry said Msgr. Eyraud baptized him and remembered how he handed out his report cards to the students.
“Msgr. Eyraud was a guardian angel,” said Jewel Aucoin, 86, who made all of her sacraments at the parish, was married at St. Peter Church. She is proud to say her four children, seven grandchildren and the majority of her great grandchildren were also baptized. Some still attend school here.
“We all revered him,” she said. “He was devoted to all the people and would visit as many families as he could each year.”
Msgr. Eyraud’s many contributions to the parish included reopening and building the parish’s Catholic school in 1930 and opening St. Catherine School for African-American students a year later, recounted Gerald Keller in a historical account he gave of the parish before the anniversary Mass.
He said the current cruciform church is the parish’s third, built after Hurricane Betsy destroyed the second Gothic church. It was dedicated by Archbishop Philip Hannan in 1968 shortly after Msgr. Eyraud had died at age 87.
“It’s a great celebration for all of us,” Archbishop Aymond told those gathered at the Mass. “We are not only here to pray for you but also to celebrate with you.”
He continued with the parish’s history, mentioning how it was the vision of New Orleans Archbishop Jean Marie Odin to appoint Father Pierre Marie Lacour as the first priest on the east bank of the growing civil parish. Father Lacour named the new church St. Pierre de Bonnet Carré, after his favorite saint and his namesake, Pierre.
A rich history
Archbishop Aymond got a laugh when he asked if there was anybody at the anniversary Mass who was there when the church was founded in 1864. He reiterated that he recalls that date not only to recount history, but to give thanks to God for establishing the parish and inspiring those early parishioners – who may have been monetarily poor but strong in their Catholic faith – to carry out his mission.
“They were generous stewards of the gifts that God gave to them,” he said.
The parish weathered war, the Great Depression and many changes in society, he said, but did so under the guidance of its long-time pastor Msgr. Eyraud.
“He was a man of faith who was loved and revered by so many,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He is responsible for so much of what St. Peter’s Parish is today.”
Got men back to church
Msgr. Eyraud was instrumental in beckoning back men who may have been away from the church, and establishing a Eucharistic Day celebration in 1938 that drew 12,000 people.
“We give thanks to Msgr. Eyraud for planting the seed of the Catholic faith in Reserve and this area,” he said. Archbishop Aymond also thanked the many deacons, priests, religious and lay faithful who have helped the parish grow.
He called St. Peter Parish a “vibrant family of faith” and said it will “always offer a rich legacy in St. John the Baptist civil parish and a rich presence of Catholicism in the area.”
But, Archbishop Aymond said parishioners must not rest on their laurels. He asked those present to thank God for the past but ask where is he leading the parish today? He urged them to individually invite people back to the parish to sit with them at the family table and encourage future leaders of the church to consider a religious vocation so they could build on St. Peter’s strong foundation.
Many have answered call
Current pastor Father John Marse is a native son who heard the call of the priesthood at a young age as he witnessed the example of the Dominican nuns in St. Peter School.
“I knew I wanted to be a priest at a young age due to their influence,” he said. He said he is fortunate that Archbishop Aymond saw him worthy of returning to his childhood parish to become its pastor. Father Marse’s parish ancestry dates to his great grandfather Jean-Baptiste Audiffred. His mother and a brother remain parishioners.
“The people are great,” Father Marse said. “They are loving and compassionate and will do anything you ask them to do. ... It’s a very active parish.”
In addition to Father Marse, other native sons to become priests include Msgr. Joseph Luminais, Father John Barrios and Father Ray Hymel Jr. Several women also became religious nuns. Several former pastors and associate pastors also attended the 150th anniversary to concelebrate the Mass.
Father Marse said the 1,000-family-strong parish will continue to celebrate the 150th anniversary with events through a closing Mass in April 2015.