St. James Catholic celebrates anniversary of state’s first Mass

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / March 10, 1999

ST. JAMES – St. James Catholic Church celebrated the 300th anniversaryof the first Catholic Mass in Louisiana at a special Mass Wednesday night.

The Rev. Louis Oubre, himself a native of St. James Parish, hosted thestanding-room-only service, which recognized the contributions of the cultures which settled St. James Parish and supported the church. Co-celebrant was the Rev. Joe Reising, S.J., of Manresa Retreat House inConvent.

One highlight of the special Mass was a presentation of symbolic gifts to the church from parishioners representing the parish’s various cultures.

Irvin “Peanut” Cunningham, a direct descendant of local Choctaw Indians, presented a dreamcatcher as a token of spirituality and friendship.

Teddy Gravois, an Acadian descendant, offered a history of the “Mad Stone of Vacherie,” which was given to an ancestor and used for generations for its fabled healing abilities.

Audrey Oubre offered a family cook-pot, symbolizing the nourishment given local culture by African-Americans.

Brian and Melanie Winchester, along with Arlaina and Ariel Ferchaud, presented a copy of the church history book.

The special Mass on Wednesday recalled the first-known Catholic Mass on Mardi Gras, March 3, 1699, celebrated by Father Anastase Donay, a missionary with French explorers Iberville and Bienville.

Church coordinator Pamela Folse was also recognized during Wednesday’s Mass for her newly-published 20-page booklet titled “St. James CatholicChurch: Remembering Our Story.”The booklet traces the history of the church, compiled from records maintained in the church’s archives and historical photographs. One of thephotos is that of the 1841 church which was demolished in 1929 as the levee was moved.

The tragic life of Valcour Aime, one of the church’s biggest patrons (who donated the oil paintings of the Stations of the Cross), is briefly recalled, and a roll of pastors since 1756 is included in the book.

Folse hosted a reception after Mass, where she autographed copies of the first 5,000 booklets published.

Folse’s book also features timelines of secular and church history chart the progress of Louisiana’s development are included, as well as the influence of African-Americans on the church and plans for 2000, the Jubilee Year.

Back on New Year’s Eve, 1998, the front doors of St. James CatholicChurch were symbolically closed in preparation for a grand re-opening on Jan. 1, 2000, to launch the church’s Jubilee Year.The church is also planning a re-enactment of the first Acadian landing in Louisiana on Aug. 8, co-sponsored by the Congres Mondial Acadien ,including an outdoor French-language Mass.

Deborah Corrao is a reporter for L’Observateur

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