For over a hundred years, Catholic Mass has been formally celebrated in the tiny Cajun village of Parks on the banks of Bayou Teche. But it was only 70 years ago that the first real parish church was established in the community.
A spry 85, Irene Melancon of Parks took an active part in the festivities held last Saturday to commemorate the founding of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Melancon is the granddaughter of Paul and Ida Theobald, who donated the land for the church — and much of the surrounding village. The Theobalds are credited with originally founding the community of Parks from a cotton plantation they once owned.
It was Paul Theobald’s belief that every village or town must have both a school and a church to be viable. The land for the church was contributed with only a simple request that a statue honoring St. Joseph be erected on the grounds.
For Alfred Joseph Potier, born April 7, 1938, the son of Joseph Marcel and Yuline Anne Potier, this past Sunday was a nostalgic homecoming of sorts, as it was for several hundred parishioners. For the past 70 years, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Parks has been Alfred Potier’s Spiritual home. He was the first child baptized there, by the Rev. Hormisdas Fotin, on April 26, 1938.
“This church is my rock to hold on to in an ever changing world. It is, for all of us, also a place of unity, a place where we can proclaim our faith,” said Potier.
“We celebrated our 70th anniversary for a very special reason,” said the Rev. Bryce Sibley, the current pastor.
“While the 50th and the 75th are more traditionally marked, this was intended to honor those living members of the church, who might have been here at its founding, while they are still here with us. None of us knows for certain how long we will be here on earth. Therefore, we felt it appropriate to recognize those now present and for their contributions in helping make this church what it has become today,” the priest said.
“St. Joseph’s Church and St. Louis Chapel are comparatively small when contrasted to our neighbors in St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. But size is not the criteria, dedication is. We have a very dedicated and loyal congregation,” he continued.
Rev. Sibley, in marking the Pentecost, the church’s 70th anniversary, and for the many mothers present, Mother’s Day, intoned a joint celebratory Mass.
In addition to the many parishioners present, the occasion was marked by the reception of a congratulatory letter from the Most Rev. Michael Jarrell, bishop of Lafayette. Several local members of the 1.7 million member Knights of Columbus were in attendance, including Wade Dupuis.
State Rep. Fred Mills Jr. stood for both St. Martin Parish Government and the State of Louisiana. He presented a proclamation of congratulations passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the governor.
Ninety-three-year-old Gail Pierre of Parks was the recipient of a special flower corsage for being the oldest mother present. The Rev. Ed Degeyter, the much-loved former pastor of the church, pinned on her corsage.
This was a most fitting act because “Father Ed,” as he is affectionately called, is a local St. Martinville boy. He was pastor at St. Joseph’s for 12½ years before Father Sibley, and was very instrumental in advancing programs in the parish to benefit the sick and elderly. Since retired, Father Ed now resides once again in St. Martinville.
A light repast (Cajun, of course, from Poche’s Restaurant) was served to the congregation at the nearby KC Hall following the Mass. All in attendance shared an appropriately decorated commemorative birthday cake.