Ladies Altar Society Bakes for Feast of St. Joseph

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 17, 2001


PHOTO: LADIES ALTAR SOCIETY is hard at work in preparation for Feast of St. Joseph. (Staff Photos by Amy Szpara) The aroma of baking filled the air even outside the little house and led any passersby to the building where the freshly-made cookies covered table after table. Inside, over 20 women and a couple of gentlemen helpers rolled, baked, iced and sprinkled several different types of Italian cookies before bagging them up into plastic. The group of bustling bakers was the Ladies Altar Society of Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church, ladies from other churches and volunteers who all get together each year to make pounds and pounds of cookies for St. Joseph’s Altar and to sell to fund improvements to their church sanctuary. The Ladies Altar Society has been preparing the cookies each year and taking care of the sanctuary for 22 years beginning when the church parish started. Each year they spend over a month getting ready for the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, a day to celebrate the saint and to pray to him for favors to be granted. Honoring St. Joseph has become a tradition for Ascension, but it originally started in Sicily. Suffering from a severe famine many years ago, Sicilians turned to their patron saint and begged him to bring an end to the famine. Their prayers were answered, and each year the people of Sicily celebrate the saint and share their blessings of food. According to Elaine Stine, a member of the Ladies Altar Society who served as president for 15 years, when Sicilian immigrants came over they brought the tradition of baking the cookies for St. Joseph’s altar with them. She said it has been a tradition in New Orleans for years and years, but was new to the River Parishes when the tradition began in 1979. It was introduced to the Acadians and French people who lived in the area then. Stine said that the first Ascension altar was built in the rectory garage, was later moved to a small trailer across from LaPlace Elementary School where Ascension first started and is now placed in the Ascension of Our Lord School cafeteria. Each year the altar grew and the amount of cookies and bakers grew in numbers, as well. “We went from a garage to a trailer to a cafeteria. We went from 50 pounds of cookies to 1200 pounds, from a handful of ladies to about 26,” said Stine. This year the group made between 1200 and 1400 pounds of cookies. Some cookies were placed on St. Joseph’s Altar, and as people kneel to pray they are able to eat them. Cookies are also sold to church members and others in the area. They are available for purchase after the masses. Lots of people called their orders in way ahead of time, said Stine. The women have a system. Some roll. Others fill. Some bake, while others put icing and sprinkles on the cookies. Another group bags the sweets after the icing dries. The bakers prepare seven types of cookies: figs, cocoons, seed cookies, Anise, cherry, chocolate and wine. St. Joseph’s Altar also contains a statue of the saint, along with donations, pies, candles, flowers and canned goods that the school children collected. Parishioners who pray before the altar place their names on an item and donate money to the altar. They will then be able to take the item home after the altar is taken down. The canned items will be donated to the Ministry of Care for needy people in the community. The Ladies Altar Society is in charge of the cookies, but they also help with the altar. They have sold tons of cookies over the years. They paid for Ascension’s ice machine, an air conditioning unit, fans, wiring and flooring in the Holy Family House, which they also keep up. The ladies also clean the sanctuary every Saturday and set up for mass. They purchase the altar boy clothes and launder them. They also decorate the sanctuary for holidays and are in charge of flowers. They maintain the greenhouse where the plants are kept and transport them back and forth between the church and the building. The dedicated group meets on the first Wednesday of every month at 11 a.m. to have lunch. Stine said that the cookie baking is their main project for the year. She said that they even have orders from California, New York and Ohio. “One lady is sending cookies to her son in the service, enough for all his buddies,” said Stine. “Over the years, we have developed a system, and when the orders go out we know from the year before how many to make for the following year,” said Stine. “As long as the demand is there, we will keep increasing the numbers. We have increased every year. We’ve never decreased.” Stine said they got the cookie recipes from different women in the group. “We improved on the cookies with trial and error each year. As the years went on, we just improved on it,” she said.