Our older church, located on St. Bernard Highway, was the oldest Catholic Church in St. Bernard Parish. From a mission chapel built in the early 1900's, Our Lady of Lourdes evolved into a thriving parish with many ministries brought about by leadership, tremendous faith and service of its past and present parishioners and clergy. As we then crossed the threshold into the new millennium, Our Lady of Lourdes Church was blessed by God through our patroness with many gifts. Our tight-knit community grew as the neighborhoods in our municipality expanded. More families were welcomed into our larger community and soon it was easy to see that our growth, then and into the future, would exceed what the modest, clapboard church was able to handle. The dream of a new church for a growing congregation and the need for more space began to become a reality. The dedication of our new church took place August 29, 1998. A dream was realized through the generosity, hard work, and efforts of a faith-filled community. We were in the planning stages of the second phase of building a rectory and priest home next to our new church. Our dreams, soon became a nightmare on August 29, 2005, when our church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Our Lady of Lourdes Church was gutted and boarded-up until we received the long awaited news in April of 2008 from the Archdiocese of New Orleans to be allowed to begin to resurrect our church. Father John Arnone was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernard Catholic Church as our new shepherd in November of 2008. We celebrated our dedication Mass and ceremony November 22, 2009. Archbishop Gregory Aymond presided at our dedication and celebration. We are forever grateful to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for allowing our church to reopen, while many of our sister churches in St. Bernard parish have not been so fortunate. We are blessed and would like to welcome and invite ALL to our church for worshipping with us.
Since 1785, the priests of St. Bernard Catholic Church had served
Catholics living below New Orleans. The boundaries of St. Bernard
Church parish were exceedingly far-flung, extending from Parish
Road, along the Mississippi River to the Poydras Plantation. The
communities along Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs, including Delacroix
Island and Shell Beach also formed part of the church parish.
Before this time and up until the early 1900's much of St. Bernard parish was divided into large plantation estates used for the cultivation of cash crops such as indigo, sugar cane and rice. Falling demands for these goods brought about the demise of large plantations. Large estates were subdivided into smaller tracts of land and vegetable and citrus cultivation replaced sugar cane and rice as major cash crops. Soon New Orleans began to offer a convenient and lucrative market for the produce grown.
Beginning in the latter half of the 19th century, St. Bernard experienced a huge influx of Italian immigrants from Sicily. Families with names such as Mumphrey, Allo, Ingargiola, Licciardi, Randazzo, Gebbia, Livaccari, Caserta, Bilogna, Nicosia, Bonomo and Saltalmacchia purchased the divided farms. The Sicilians made creole tomatoes famous and enhanced the economy of St. Bernard.
Prior to 1785, priests from the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
celebrated the baptisms, marriages and funerals of residents of
St. Bernard. It was not until the advent of the Spaniards and the
creation of the Canary Islander settlement of San Bernardo that
action was taken to erect the church parish of St. Bernard, the
first Catholic church parish below the city.
In 1785, a Spanish Capuchin, Father Mariauo de Brunete, was assigned to San Bernardo as the founding pastor by Governor Esteban Miro. Father Brunete was succeeded by Father Agustin Lamar in 1787. During his pastorate the first St. Bernard Church was built somewhere between 1787 and 1791. The building stood until a second, larger St. Bernard Church was completed in 1851 under the pastorate of Father Jean Caretta.
Father Laurent Borredon was assigned to the pastorate in 1906. A native of France, his earnest sermons in French soon won him the respect of his French-speaking congregation.
Oliver Livaudais Sr., a polished young attorney and businessman, was impressed by the French priest and soon befriended him. Livaudais was destined to play a significant role in the establishment of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Born in Plaquemines Parish, Oliver was the son of Albert Enonl de Livaudais, a planter who studied law and became judge of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. Livaudais and a group of entrepreneurs from New Orleans and St. Bernard had organized the Borgnemouth Realty Company and purchased the former Dupre' Guichard Plantation on May 6, 1904.
Father Borredon approached Livaudais and asked the realty company for permission to establish a mission chapel on their property in what is now the town of Violet. On September 15, 1908, the Board of Directors of Borgnemouth Realty Company authorized their president, Sylvester P. Walmsley, and their secretary Oliver S. Livaudais Sr., to sign an act of sale for the transfer of lots three, four, five, six and seven in square one, town of Borgnemouth for the sum of one dollar, subject to the restriction that the property could "only be used for church and school purposes." A small chapel under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes was constructed in 1916 shortly thereafter.
Livaudais' son, Gatien, recalled that J. C. Bourg was the contractor who built the original Lourdes Chapel. He was the same contractor who constructed the old Violet School in 1913 on land offered by Borgnemouth Realty. "When they broke up the school, the ownership of the property had to be determined." Gatien Livaudais said. "Judge Leander Perez decided that the school board owned the building and the realty company owned the land. The Livaudais family donated the land to the church and Manuel Molero bought the building for $50 and gave it to Lourdes." This building became the community center for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, the site of many church activities.
Father Borredon remained in residence at St. Bernard Church until it was destroyed by fire on February 13, 1916. The adjoining rectory, which was occupied by Father Borredon and his sister, was also destroyed. Masses in St. Bernard Parish were celebrated thereafter in Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel. Our Lady of Lourdes became the mother church of St. Bernard civil parish.
Father Borredon then lived in homes of parishioners as he made preparations to direct St. Bernard Church Parish from Violet. Apparently, parish resources were insufficient to undertake the construction of a new church at the site of the old one.
In 1924, Father Louis Balechou succeeded Father Borredon as pastor, taking over a parish of 600 people. A native of France, he was a veteran of World War I. He was noted for his sternness an was a strict fiscal administrator. Father Balechou was the essence of discipline and commanded respect from all who knew him. Despite his proper facade, he was capable of great warmth. Under Father Balechou, the present St. Bernard Church was constructed in 1925. He also widened Lourdes Church to its present size the same year. In 1927 the rectory was built and the sanctuary was added on to the church.
His parishioners experienced great hardships. The devastating Mississippi River floods of 1922 and 1927 had ruined crops and destroyed homes of many and the financial crash of 1919 and the "Great Depression" only compounded their living problems. For the 13 years he served as pastor, Father Balechou never collected a salary because offertory collections were only sufficient to keep the church running. Father Balechou lived mostly off money acquired from his family inheritance.
It was during this time (1934) that the church parish came to be served by Mrs. Helen Selle, a full-time church organist who would devote the next 50 years of her life to the music ministry. Mrs. Selle was responsible for getting the church its first electric organ and organized the first Lourdes Carnival Ball in 1947.
The Eucharist Missionaries of St. Dominic were invited in 1935 to help with Lourdes parish and the mission chapels. Two or three sisters would travel to and from Violet by street car or bus from their motherhouse in New Orleans. Eventually they drove a school bus to bring children to a site for religious instruction, then delivered them home along the Mississippi River and the bayous.
Several missionaries, sometimes living and working with candidates and novices of their community, lay volunteers or other sisters have resided in Lourdes between 1957-1982 and 1990 until 1999, when the Eucharistic Missionaries had fulfilled their mission to our parish and withdrew. The sisters have been primarily involved in catechists, helping to form lay catechists, sharing the faith with adults and youth, assisting in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as well as pastoral ministry. Their primary mission goal has been the enablement of lay ministry and the support of lay leadership in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
In 1939, German immigrant Father Clemens Schneider was appointed as pastor of Lourdes with attached mission of St. Bernard, Yscloskey, Reggio, Delacroix Island and smaller mission stations located in Plaquemines Parish. He would hold the position for the next 24 years, assisted by Fathers James Finnegan, William Bekema, Athanasius Brugger, O.S.B., Godfrey Velden, Morris Dummet, Carmel Grech, John Barrios, Allen Roy, Clinton Doskey and Henry Naquin.
From 1941 to 1946, Father Schneider served as chaplain in the United States Army. Father Joseph Janssen organized the first Catholic Youth Organization for the parish.
Father Schneider, always interested in preservation, took it upon himself to restore many of the historic tombs in St. Bernard Cemetery. Through years of neglect, the tombs became dilapidated with many of the tombstones shattered into hundred of pieces. Piece by piece Father Schneider glued many of the broken pieces together and preserved the burial grounds.
On September 9, 1965, Our Lady of Lourdes Church was spared by Hurricane Betsy, but the mission chapels and their parishioners were not as fortunate. All three chapels in lower St. Bernard were destroyed and many lives turned upside down because people had no homes to return to, no clothing to wear or food to eat.
Father Michael Finnegan, James' younger brother, was appointed as pastor the following year and stayed until 1971. In 1968, Father Finnegan approached Achbishop Philip M. Hannan about having a Saturday Vigil Mass at the church. Archbishop Hannan authorized his plea and on September 4, 1968 the first vigil mass in the archdiocese was held at Lourdes.
Because of a shortage of priests in the archdiocese in 1971, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan invited the La Sallette Fathers Fernand Langevin and Roland Vandal to serve in the parish. Father Richard Theodule followed Father Vandal in 1974.
Father Rudolph Schmidt was named pastor in 1975 and Father Kenneth Hedrick assisted him. These two young priests stirred the spirit of a "new" congregation. Lay people became more involved in parish activities and the youthful appeal of the two men drew young people to church in great numbers. Father Hedrick initiated a very active liturgy committee that still exists in the parish today.
In 1980, Father Kenneth Ryan became pastor. Father Ryan had experience with youth programs and reactivated the CYO. Aware of the lack of unity within the church, Father Ryan instituted the Violet Oyster Festival to build fellowship among the parishioners. Today, the festival is still going strong and gets better and better each year. It is a major source of revenue for the church.
Since 1986, our parish has been led by Father Frank Lipps. Father Frank has served as pastor longer than any pastor has in our recent history. In fact, Father Frank's tenure is equaled to that of our founding pastor Father Borredon and his successor, Father Balechou. And of course, our beloved Father Clemens Schneider who served two separate tenures at Lourdes between 1939 and 1963. It goes without saying that Father Frank found a home at Lourdes and the people of Lourdes found a pastor that became a lifetime friend of the community. Father Frank was named a monsignor on January 9, 2000. He is the only priest in the St. Bernard Deanery with this distinction. In his humble way, Father Frank credits the parish for his elevation within the church.
Since 1986, Deacon Bill Chiappetta assisted the pastoral team with Baptisms, First Eucharist, special liturgies and Funeral Rites as well as many other committees and tasks of the parish.
In June of 1987, after Father Frank experienced some health concerns, we were blessed to receive Father Adrian Figuerola as co-pastor. Leading the parish as it celebrated its 75th anniversary, in 1991 were Father Frank Lipps, Father Adrian Figuerola and Sister Jeanne Moore, O.P. Their unity, deep faith in God and love for our community have made our parish family grow stronger. We have made great progress in strengthening communication between the parishioners and the clergy through the various ministries that were formed. Father Frank and Father Adrian combined for a perfect pastoral team. Father Frank's common-sense approaches to our challenges kept us on track. Father Adrian's deep spiritual side ignited a fire of deeper understanding of the scriptures. His gentle ways and traditions endeared him to us, but soon we were faced with his departure. We bid Father Adrian farewell on June 27, 1992 at a retirement party in his honor, held at the community center.
Father John Nhan Tran, newly ordained priest, arrived in July, 1992. He was eager to learn about parish life as a priest and we were just as eager to indoctrinate him. Father John soon became like a son, a brother, and a friend to the community. His youthfulness sparked interest from the youth of the parish. Father John stayed with us until June, 1995.
James Nguyen Bach served a one year internship at Our Lady of Lourdes. Our parish family proudly shared in his ordination into the Priesthood in 1994.
In July, 1995, Father Mauro Raul Lobo joined the Lourdes family. He was born in India and was ordained to the priesthood in 1962, a late vocation in life. He introduced the parish to his deep spirituality that was rooted in his native Indian customs.
On July 13, 1997, groundbreaking ceremonies were held on the new site at the corner of Colonial and Judge Perez Drive. Archbishop Francis B. Schulte dedicated our new church on August 29, 1998. Following the dedication, a celebration was held on the church grounds.
We were then blessed to have Father Raymond Guillot, another newly ordained priest to assist Father Frank. Father Raymond became part of our family on July 1, 2000. He served as chaplain for Archbishop Hannan High and guided many youth in our church parish throughout his stay at Lourdes. Father Raymond was then moved to a neighboring church parish, but still remained chaplain for Hannan High.
In July of 2003, the Archdiocese of New Orleans assigned Father Kyle Dave to our church parish to assist Father Frank. His reputation precede him, but none of us were prepared for the dynamo of energy and spirituality we came to know and love as Father Kyle. He brought with him a way of getting people more involved in church life by fanning their flames of faith.
The pairing of the traditions instilled by Father Frank and the passion of Father Kyle made for a church family that was growing in faith and numbers.
The Catholic Church is full of traditions, but since the mid 1980's, Our Lady of Lourdes has added new ones to many of our older traditions. Kneeling after Mass for one final private prayer, holding hands during the "Our Father", the entire congregation washing each others feet on Holy Thursday, the levee "Way of the Cross" and the bare footed reverencing of the cross on Good Friday are naming only a few.
Seven years to the day of dedicating our new church on August 29, 2005, everything came to an abrupt halt. Hurricane Katrina changed our lives forever. Our beautiful church building was heavily damaged. Our dynamic duo of Father Frank and Father Kyle were transferred and we were left to find a new way of doing things.
Many thanks go out to Father Raymond, Father Frank and Father Kyle for tending to us as much as they could during a troubled time. They helped bury many of our parishioners in the months following Katrina, along with giving us hope and words of encouragement. They were there when we needed them most. We will never forget them and they will always be a part of the Lourdes family.
Six months after the hurricane, as people moved back to our area, a movement was started to have our church reopened. At a time when the Archdiocese was downsizing and many churches were being closed or combined, the task of reopening our church seemed monumental. Never the less, we prayed for a miracle, because that is what it would take. With the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes and the faith of a resilient people, we were granted our miracle in April of 2008.
We could do nothing until we were assigned a priest. Father John Arnone readily accepted the challenge of shepherding two churches in November of 2008. The church was reopened in November 2009 and continues to flourish today.
In July of 2013, Father Luke Nguyen was assigned to serve our church and under his guidance, the project to begin the construction of our new community center began.
In July of 2017, we welcomed Father Bryan Howard as he joined us for his first pastoral assignment and continues to lead us today into our next 100 years.
As we move forward we invite all who pass through our doors to be a part of our family, be a part of our miracle, be a part of Our Lady of Lourdes.