100 years of faith, family at Our Lady of Lourdes
On April 9 at the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass, Our Lady of Lourdes in Violet will celebrate 100 years as a Catholic church parish. A procession with parishioners carrying a statue of Mary, its patron, will begin at 3:45 p.m.
“I think it’s special at 100 years to rededicate ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Our Lady of Lourdes,” Father Luke Nguyen, pastor, said about the procession, which will be similar to a February procession the parish held on Our Lady of Lourdes’ feast day.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond will celebrate the anniversary Mass and offer special intercessory prayers to Mary.
Our Lady of Lourdes’ feast is among several special faith observances in the parish. Others are the Good Friday three-mile Way of the Cross along the Mississippi River, held for more than 30 years, and the Krewe of Lourdes Carnival ball that Helen Selle, the parish organist for 50 years, started in 1947.
The parish also received special permission in 1968 to have – what parishioners believe is – the first vigil Mass on Saturdays in the Archdiocese of New Orleans to accommodate fishermen in the parish. It wasn’t until Dec. 14, 1974, that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops gave permission for all U.S. parishes to celebrate Vigil Masses.
“We have a lot of traditions that we started a long time ago and continue to carry out today,” said Mary Ann Bazile, 58, a parishioner since birth.
Her family is one of many traced to Our Lady of Lourdes’ beginnings. Her grandmother Manuella Perez, a widow, cooked for parish priests; and her parents, Cloverel and Eugene “Rabbit” Perez, became actively involved in the parish.
“Our Lady of Lourdes’ roots and traditions are very, very deep, like an old oak tree with its roots embedded in the ground,” Bazile said.
The resilience and dedication of parishioners have sustained Our Lady of Lourdes through the Great Depression, several floods and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The closeness of the people has kept Ted Diecidue, a parishioner since 1956, and his wife Phyllis involved as co-chairs of the parish’s annual oyster festival for 20 years. “They are willing to help and do whatever it takes to keep the parish going,” Diecidue said of parishioners.
Our Lady of Lourdes' Oyster Festival is the parish’s largest annual fund-raiser. Its success paid most construction costs of the current church – relocated from St. Bernard Highway to East Judge Perez Drive and dedicated on Aug. 29, 1998.
Aug. 29 is recalled for another reason: Hurricane Katrina. The storm pummeled the church and the rest of St. Bernard with approximately eight feet of water, causing many to move throughout New Orleans and elsewhere, reducing the population in both the civil and church parish by 40 percent. It is estimated that there were 2,500 parishioners before Hurricane Katrina. Now, about 200 families are registered and 400 attend weekly Mass.
“Many of our parishioners before Katrina have relocated mainly to three areas: Picayune (now referred to as little St. Bernard), Slidell and Mandeville,” Father Nguyen said.
It also halted parish plans to build a rectory and parish center in 2005. But it didn’t squash their spirit.
Wanting their faith traditions and roots to survive, parishioners proved to the archdiocese, through a demographic study, that there was a need for Our Lady of Lourdes to reopen.
“We fought long and hard to get our church reopened because this is our home and our heart,” Bazile said.
Bazile and Cathy Williams, building committee members for the relocated church on East Judge Perez, said the steel structure of the parish church built in 1998 sustained it. Once the archdiocese gave approval for the parish to reopen, it took a year to renovate the church and reopen in 2009, with very few interior changes.
“We took out one pew in the back of the church to make it easier for parishioners to enter and exit,” Diecidue said. “And we made the parking lot bigger” for the oyster festival, which grew from its start as a parish picnic in the 1980s to the “all-out festival” it is today, raising an average of $75,000 annually.
The first mission chapel named Our Lady of Lourdes was built in 1916 on land donated by Borgnemouth Realty near the Mississippi River on St. Bernard Highway. The realty company’s Oliver Livaudais Sr. sold Lourdes’ first pastor, Father Laurent Borredon, five lots for $1 to be used for a church and school. Eight years later, approximately 600 people were registered as parishioners, according to parish history.
The parish continued to thrive, and Diecidue said that church underwent at least three renovations and additions to accommodate needs. By the 1990s, the building was termite-ridden, had no insulation, had outdoor restroom facilities, was too small for the congregation and was too close to St. Bernard Highway. It was decided that the current church would be built on Judge Perez, on land coincidentally owned by the Livaudais family that was swapped with archdiocesan land owned nearby.
The next chapter of the parish will include the kicking off a $1.3 million capital campaign to build a community center and rectory to replace a triple-wide and a single trailer now serving as the parish office and religious education center (teaching 160 students weekly) and renovate a donated cottage for a rectory. Approximately $700,000 raised from recent oyster festivals will go toward the project.
Father Nguyen looks forward to continuing to build the body of Christ at Our Lady of Lourdes into a place that is welcoming to everyone and “a center of faith gathering, of service to the needy and a refuge for those who have found meaning and joy through their encounter with Christ.”
“It is with great confidence and prayer that Our Lady of Lourdes embarks on our next 100 years and engages the challenges and opportunities which will sustain our faith community,” Father Nguyen said.