Tradition-filled cookies

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 15, 2014

By Monique Roth

LAPLACE – St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church’s Family Life Center has been full of busy bakers and sweet smelling aromas as St. Joseph Altar preparations are in full swing at the church.

The tradition, commemorating the relief St. Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily, began in the late 1800s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans. The altars flourished among the prolific celebrations of Louisiana.

For believers, the annual altar is a way to express gratitude for any sort of fortune in their lives. Because the altars thank St. Joseph for relieving hunger, offerings of food are essential. Cookies, cakes and breads are common decorations for the altars.

Patrons of St. Joan of Arc Church have been baking for the altar since January. New to this year’s altar is the presale of cookies. Last year approximately 7,000 sweets were made, and the preorders this year raised that number to nearly 20,000.

Robin Lewis and Marlene Bourgeois both serve as coordinators of this year’s altar preparations.

Bourgeois said Sister PierCarla Barone, the religious coordinator at SJA School, has been a “driving force” of the altar over the past few years.

Barone was born in Italy and has lived in the U.S. since 1969. She has worked at SJA School since 2005.

All profit from the altar this year will benefit The Daughters of Divine Providence, Barone’s religious order.

Barone said efforts are under way to build an “internata,” a home in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula where village children in first through eighth grade can live while attending local schools. The vision of the home is to give economically disadvantaged children a chance to learn from, be cared for and loved by the sisters.

St. Joan of Arc Church will hold its blessing of the altar on March 18 at 6:15 p.m. The altar will be open from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. that night.

On March 19, the altar will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

SJA students will participate in the Feeding of the Saints at 11:30 a.m. As tradition has it, the altar is broken up on St. Joseph Day with a ceremony of costumed children pretending to look for shelter and finding sustenance at the altar.

Fava beans, or “lucky beans” are another altar tradition particularly associated with St. Joseph because they sustained the Sicilians throughout famine.

The beans have found their way into the purses and pockets of many locals and are often kept as a treasured memento of St. Joseph Feast celebrations.

Bourgeois said new to this year’s event will be the addition of a traditional meatless spaghetti meal served on March 19. The meal will be served from noon until 2:30 p.m. and then again from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Any food left from the altar is donated to various charities and retirement homes, said Bourgeois.