A NEW CALLING
Published 12:00 am Monday, November 27, 2006
Father Benny leaving area for mission work in Mexico
By KERI CHAMPION
LAPLACE – Rev. Benny (Benjamin) Piovan has been the rock for hundreds of the faithful for nearly 30 years at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in LaPlace, but soon they will say goodbye to their shepard.
Father Benny is retiring from the parish after 27 years of tending to the needs of the Catholics in the community to go do missionary work in the impoverished regions of Mexico.
Parishioners of the church say that Father Benny took the time to get to know each and every one of the people he has helped to foster and grow their faith and spirituality since the beginning.
Mickey Simon was a speaker at Father Benny’s going away mass on Nov. 5.
“The most memorable image I have of Father Benny that stands out in my mind in when he washed the feet of the parishioners on one Holy Thursday. For me it was the most perfect image of holiness to see him wash the feet like Jesus did to the apostles,” he said.
“It is a great example of holiness that we should follow in our own lives,” Simon said.
John and Irene Rauch were co-founders of the Ascension of Our Lord Parish and they were key partners in helping Father Benny build the parish. The story Mr. Rauch tells is the story of the commitment and belief needed to start a new church parish.
We were a young couple with five children who attended St. Joan of Arc Church and we were happy with the church, but the bishop decided that St. John the Baptist Parish needed a new Catholic Church and we were in the vicinity that would have to go to the new church.
St. Charles Catholic High School was gracious enough to extend us the use of their music hall for the new church but, we had no altar or platform for the altar. Father Benny asked us to help him find pieces of wood from scraps in the lumberyard to build the altar with.
Well, we went in the truck to get the wood scraps and the police stopped us and we were afraid we would be in trouble, but all I had to do was mention Father Benny and that it was for the new church and the officer let us go, telling us that we could take what we needed as long as it was just from the scraps. You see, there had been a lot of thievery from the lumberyard and the police had been watching for them. Father’s influence not only affects his church, but it affects the whole community.
By building this church we learned frugality, humility and prayer with Father to guide us.
Irene Rauch shared her feelings on how Father Benny watched over his flock with an uncommon compassion and commitment to others.
The gospel of the Good Shepard is what Mrs. Ranch thinks of when picturing Father Benny.
Father has challenged us to do what we ourselves didn’t think we were capable of doing. He is the Shepard who would lay down his life for his sheep.
I can remember countless times when Father Benny went beyond human endurance to help his flock, he visited the sick and poor. He taught me how to use grafting from fruit vines to raise food and knew his people so well that if they changed seats at church he would be looking for them.
Father Benny has always been a true missionary spirit since he has been here and he will leave us with that same spirit. He is retiring from watching over one flock to take over watching another.
Phillip Berns was influenced strongly by Father Benny who he says always called him “his little priest.” Berns said his decision to enter the seminary was a direct impact of going to school at Ascension of Our Lord and serving as an altar boy.
“Almost everything I came to acknowledge and understand in the Catholic Church cam from my discussions with Father Benny and his willingness to answer my never-ending questions,” Berns said.
Liz Naquin is a Eucharistic minister at Ascension of Our Lord Church and was a member of the parish from its beginning.
“I remember when Father called me personally to ask me to be a Eucharistic minister in January of last year. I had asked a long time before that if I could be one and when he called it was a very special feeling to know he remembered my request,” she said.
Naquin said she will miss him dearly, but that she is happy he will be doing something he wants to do now.
Anita and Alton Johnson said they have been parishioners of Ascension of Our Lord for about seven years and said that Father Benny is a man known for his own unconventional thinking and that he is not easily swayed by others, a sentiment that was reiterated by Bishop Alfred C. Hughes of the Greater New Orleans Archdiocese when he spoke at the mass.
“When Father Benny makes up his mind, no one can change it,” Hughes said.
Carmen Perilloux has also been a member of the parish since its inception 27 years ago.
“He built the adoration chapel for us and so many wonderful things have happened there because of it. The chapel was built from scratch with donations and from pieces of another church that was being torn down. Miracles have happened there,” Perilloux said.
“He has been instrumental in my faith. His dedication to his beliefs and his commitment to the Roman Catholic church and its teachings have helped my whole family. Father Benny is always reaching out to those in spiritual need,” she said.
Perilloux says Father Benny helped her daughter-in-law convert to Catholicism from Hinduism and that all her grandkids are Catholic too.
“He blessed the marriage of my son and his wife and baptized and confirmed my daughter-in-law all in one day!’ she said.
Ray Caldarera also served as an altar boy under Father Benny and all three of his children were baptized by him.
“To know the man I served as an altar boy for at Our Lady of Perpetual Help 30-35 years ago has also baptized my kids is very important to me,” he said.
Father Benny was surprised to find fulfillment in U.S. work
By KERI CHAMPION
LAPLACE-Reverend Benjamin Piovan is retiring from Ascension of Our Lord Parish in LaPlace, but not from his service to God and the church.
Reverend Piovan, known to parishioners just as “Father Benny,” will be retiring from parish service after 27 years in LaPlace to do mission work in Saltillo, Mexico. He left the parish on November 17.
Father Benny and others have made about 16 trips over the last 10 years to Saltillo to administer The Word to the poverty-stricken regions of Saltillo where many villages and homes are in isolated mountain passes through narrow and treacherous gullies.
He is a member of the Salesian Order of priests who generally specialize in teaching and education.
Father said that as a young boy he always had a compassion people and even at the age of five, in Italy, he can remember Padre Marcello preaching at Mass and told himself he wanted to be like the Padre.
Father Benny first came to America from Italy in July 1955 to finish up his college work in Newton, NJ.
“It was really a disappointment to me at first when I was assigned to North America when I applied to foreign missions. I was hoping to go to Korea, India, Africa, or even South America. North America never crossed my mind, but in the spirit of obedience, I went,” Father Benny said.
The next year, Father Benny was sent to Tampa, FL where he taught at an orphanage there for four years before returning to school to complete his seminary studies.
“I completed seminary in Bollengo, Italy, just out of Turin at a medieval castle on a mountaintop that had been converted to a seminary. I spent the next four summers working with the poor and orphans,” he said.
After being ordained in 1964 Father Benny taught Biology and science at a silk-factory that was turned into a school in Patterson, NJ. He also Taught in Marrero, LA beginning in 1967 at Shaw High School. During his time in Marrero he served as a prison chaplain for Jefferson Parish in Gretna while simultaneously attending Xavier University to obtain his Master’s in Education. Father Benny completed his degree in May 1973.
During this time, however, the call to parish service pushed Father Benny to ask for a church parish of his own.
“Archbishop Hannan received me graciously into the Archdiocese of New Orleans and sent me to be an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kenner, though I was hoping to get assigned somewhere near Gretna so I could be close to the many friends on the West Bank I had made there during my time of service,” Father Benny said.
‘After eight years of service at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I was assigned to start a new parish here in LaPlace and what an experience it has been!” he said.
We started the parish on July 2, 1979 in the St. Charles Catholic Music Room
“There was an overwhelming sentiment in the community that would turn into Ascension of Our Lord Parish, to build a school before the church. The people felt that a school should be the first priority, so we had our first parish assembly in the St. Charles school cafeteria and decided to build the school first,” Benny said.
“The school opened with half-day kindergarten classes in 1980 and by August of the next year we had added two new portable classrooms to the first building located on land across from LaPlace Elementary,” he said.
“Meanwhile, we started the first school building on a permanent location on the eve of the feast of the Ascension. That first building is what we now know as Don Bosco Hall. In the same year, we opened the first school K-6 building and celebrated our first mass there,” he said.
“By 1985 we needed a new school building. The parish was almost split in half as to whether to build the church or the school, and against most pastoral recommendations, we built another school building. It was a very painful and difficult time for us,” Benny said.
“The alternative option was to build one portable classroom a year for nine years to expand the school to the size we needed it to be, but I didn’t want the school looking like a trailer park, it seems you can never get rid of portables once they are built,” he said. Mass was celebrated in the school cafeteria.
“The Lord has blessed me with a forward looking attitude, but from time to time we must find courage to look back to the past to find it for the future. Sometimes you need to make bold decisions and stand alone for what you think is right, ”he said.
“In the nine years it would have taken to expand the school, Father Benny and parishioners built a new permanent school building, paved the roads and did many other improvements on the property before the church was built.
In 1987, the cafeteria the parish had been using was not practical for worship anymore because there were too many other activities going on there. The parish had a fund-raising drive to raise money to build temporary church. The drive was successful and the building was constructed and served as a temporary church for 12 years. That building is now the school library.
Other buildings such as the new Pre-K and the Perpetual Adoration Chapel followed. He said he is proud he waited because he was able to build a church in a traditional style that has been uncommon in the last 30 years.
“So many churches look like warehouses now, I am glad we have a traditional church, and that I was a part of that,” he said.
As Father Benny leaves Ascension of Our Lord Parish he says he is happy to be going to serve God in other ways.
“My biggest accomplishment to date is not the buildings we built, but the church community we built. The buildings are just a by-product of the community that was formed around them,” he said.
Father Benny said that while it is hard to say good-bye, looking forward is easier.
So far, Father Benny has built a church in Mexico at the Mission of San Miguel in Santillo. The name of the church is Crito Rey and he has helped villagers to construct better homes and learn animal husbandry so they can provide for themselves.
“The people only receive mass for two hours a month with one priest and I feel that they are spiritually neglected with little education and are need my help. I hope that being there will give them some comfort and guidance,” he said.
“I leave with the hope that the parish will continue to grow in the faith and continue to help with the Santillo mission work when I am gone. Most of all, I want everyone to remember that we are all one in the Lord no matter the distance or separation between us, especially when we come together for the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass,” Father Benny said.