Our Lady of Grace celebrating milestone this weekend

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2012

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – Although the concept may seem foreign to some of its younger parishioners, before the establishment of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church African-American Catholics in the area had little choice other than to cram themselves into the back of St. Peter Church in Reserve for Sunday worship. That is one reason current parishioners Mary Mitchell and Charlotte Hooker and Pastor the Rev. Roderick Coates find it so important to celebrate the parish’s 75th anniversary.

“I think for any faith community to celebrate 75 years of it being your own, it’s important,” said Coates. “You truly take ownership.”

And the milestone becomes all the more important when the parish in question is the first established for African Americans between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

“We are taking this weekend to kind of reflect back,” said Hooker. “We had a humble beginning.”

That beginning lies at St. Peter just up the street in Reserve, where Monsignor Jean Eyraud led the charge to establish a school for African-American children. That school was eventually moved downriver to the current location of Our Lady of Grace.

In 1937 the first Mass was said at Our Lady of Grace on Palm Sunday.

Since that time, the parish has grown, so much so that the original church was moved to the current site of Riverlands Christian Center so a new, bigger church could be built in its place. The original church was recently added to the African American Heritage Trail.

Also since that time, OLG has become an inextricable part of the lives of any Catholics in the area.

“For me its hard to separate myself from Our Lady of Grace,” said Mitchell. “It’s always been like a family.”

This weekend the community will celebrate its 75th anniversary with three days of events.

On Friday OLG will host an adult social from 7 to 8:30 p.m., followed by dancing from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are $10.

Then on Saturday, the church will host a family, fun and fellowship day. The morning will be devoted to wellness activities beginning at 8 a.m., with health living tips from 8:30 to 9 a.m., Jazzercise from 9 to 9:40 a.m. and a wellness fair from 9:30 to 11 a.m. The midday hours will be devoted to one of the region’s favorite activities, eating. Then from 1 until 3:30 p.m. attendees can take part in a number of activities, including bingo, music, volleyball, water slides and more.

On Sunday, the celebration will culminate with a 3 p.m. Mass, with a banquet following immediately in the gym. Archbishop Gregory Aymond will be the guest of honor, and tickets for the banquet are $100.

Another notable aspect of the weekend will be the display of the original bell from the church, which will be installed on the grounds prior to the celebration.

And once the weekend’s festivities are over, parishioners still have one more thing to look forward to.

“It’s going to be culminated with a history book,” said Mitchell. “Hopefully we’ll have it finished by Oct. 1.”