St. John the Baptist, Cloutierville celebrates 200th anniversary

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Cloutierville celebrated its 200th anniversary Nov. 19 with a special Mass celebrated by Bishop David Talley and concelebrated by Father Christian Ogbonna, pastor and a group of other priests from the diocese.

During the Mass, Bishop Talley recognized senior member of the congregation and then asked the youngest members to stand as well.

“For 200 years your ancestors have worshipped in this house of prayer,” he said. “When you rejoice in 200 years, we must rejoice in our ancestors.”

A St. John the Baptist Catholic Church proclamation was issued by the City of Cloutierville, the State of Louisiana, and the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Department.

After Mass, Bishop Talley gathered outside the church with the priests and parishioners to bless a new shrine of St. John the Baptist located near the front of the church.

The history of St. John the Baptist parish began in 1816, when Alexis Cloutier built a small chapel on his plantation along the Cane River at the heart of what he hoped would become a thriving new community south of Natchitoches.

The chapel was blessed by Father Francisco Maynes of Natchitoches on Nov. 19, 1916 and dedicated in honor of St. John the Baptist.

The town Alexis Cloutier dreamed of and planned for did slowly form and in 1850, a resident pastor Father George Guy, was appointed to St. John’s.

Three years later the small town was devastated by a violent yellow fever epidemic that claimed the lives of more than half the population.

Father Guy suffered through the painful effects of the fever but survived. 

In 1856, Father Jean Marie Beaulieu was assigned as pastor.  He remained at his post through the difficult days of the Civil War when the church and the rectory were plundered by Union troops.

After the war, Father Beaulieu repaired and enlarged the church in 1870.  During his ministry of 41 years, he built two schools for his parishioners -- St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s.  He died on Sept. 15, 1897.

Under Father M.S. Becker, the church was remodeled.  Twin towers were added together with a pillared portico and the outside walls were stuccoed. Structural repairs and a new high altar were added by Father Frederick Lyons. 

The exterior of the church was completely remodeled in 1962 preserving the interior decor which dated back to 1870.  In June of 1965, the hisotric structure burned. 

The faithful congregation rebuilt the church and the new structure was dedicated by Bishop John Favalora on Nov. 2, 1986.  A new marble altar and catechetical building wwere added to the parish plant by Father Daniel Corkery.

In 2003, Bishop Sam Jacobs designated St. John the Batist Church as a “proto-parish” in the Diocese of Alexandria.


St. James Memorial celebrates 105th anniversary; elders honored

St. James Memorial Church in Alexandria celebrated its 105th anniversary Oct. 22 with a dinner and dance at its hall facility.

Joseph Cotton, a former graduate of St. James School, was the guest speaker. Cotton is currently the director of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at the University of Louisiana - Lafayette.

Mistress of ceremonies Lillian Metoyer presented the elders of the church with certificates for their love and dedication to the parish. Elders receiving certificates were Mary Ann Ford, Joseph Frank, Birdia Metoyer, Lillie Mae Baker, Spellman Francois, and Bertha LeGras.

Mrs. LeGras, the second oldest member of the congregation, turned 100 the following day (Oct. 23, 2016). The congregation sang happy birthday and Father Gabriel Uzondu, pastor of St. James Memorial, blessed her.

The history of St. James began in 1894 when Sister Mary Xavier, a Sister of Divine Providence, opened a school for black children in a one-room building on Watkins Ave. In 1902 a new school was built between Fisk and Beauegard Sts. In May of 1911, Father Marcos received permission from Bishop Van de Ven to establish a separate black church in Alexandria.

Bishop Van de Ven invited the Holy Ghost Fathers to take charge of the new parish, which marked the first Holy Ghost mission in Louisiana. The fathers served the parish faithfully for 75 years until 1986.

In May of 1915, ground was broked for a new church. Money for church was donated by Father Joseph Smith of Cleveland, who stipulated that the church be named after the patron saint of his brother, James. The new church, built at a cost of $7,500 by the LeGras Brother

Construction Company, was dedicated in December, 1917. A new two-story rectory and school was completed in 1918. The new school included a high school and the first high school graduation was celebrated in 1919. The school cotinued in operation until 1967 when it was forced to close.

In 1956, a mission church was served by St. James for south Alexandria. until it was transferred to St. Juliana in 1979.


Our Lady of Sorrows Group Homes celebrate 25th anniversary

By Melissa Gregory, The Town Talk

Angela Campbell’s brother has been under the care of Our Lady of Sorrows for most of his life, and she’s seen him grow and thrive.

“I’ve seen everything,” she said of her 41-year-old brother Joey, who has been with the sisters since he was 3 1/2. “His disposition is wonderful, his character has grown. He loves his brothers who he lives with.”

Family and friends gathered Nov. 20 at St. Rita’s Family Life Center to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Our Lady of Sorrows Community Homes, three private homes for adults with developmental disabilities that are licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

The event was catered by Chef John Folse, who spoke to the crowd of his own upbringing and his need to give back. Folse flew into Alexandria late Saturday from Kansas, where he had catered another event — “even in Kansas, they need Louisiana chefs to give them good food” — and said he would have walked back from the Midwest just to see Mother Carla Bertani.

Bertani was the administrator and manager of the Greco Home, one of the three homes, from its inception in 1991 until 2011, when she was transferred to Italy. She returned to Alexandria for the anniversary, recalling the fears and challenges of starting the concept with the help of the late Bishop Charles Greco.

She called it an “adventure,” moving the residents from one larger facility to smaller homes. But it all worked out with the support of parents and the Alexandria community, she said.

The first two homes opened in 1991, and the third opened in 1993. The operation also includes an office building and a bakery called the Cookie Jar that opened in 2012.

The Cookie Jar gives clients the chance to be employed, giving them a sense of self-worth, said Bertani.

“So for them to be able to work, to be able to receive a paycheck, to be able to plan what they’re going to do with the money that they make, it gives a chance to feel like adults, to be important, of being independent,” she said.

The land for the homes, two for men and one for women, was donated by James and Gerry Verzwyvelt. Photos of the two were displayed at the event next to a photo of all 20 residents who live in the houses on Browns Bend Road. Linda Serio, a Shreveport resident whose father is from Alexandria, spent time looking at the photos Sunday.

Her godchild is a resident, and she said that “everything about the organization is wonderful.”

Folse agreed with that sentiment, saying that it was a pleasure to be associated with “this beautiful ministry.” He told the attendees the story of how his mother died in 1955, when he was 7, and how his father raised him and his seven siblings.

But he said that, before her death, his mother instilled in all her children why they were put upon the Earth.

“It’s really special for me to be here because I know the need in a community,” he said. “I’m just really so passionate about doing whatever we can to help others and encourage everybody to continue to do what you’re doing. Continue to live your lives in a way that we come to clearly understand that we’re here for a purpose.

“We’re here for one purpose only, and that’s to do the deeds that God has put in our hearts to see where the need is around us and respond to it and to realize that the gifts that we have are not for us. The gifts that we have are to share with those that he intended for us to give them to.”

The celebration focused on the clients and how the homes have bettered their lives, said Sister Mavis Champagne.

“Today is about where we’ve been and where we are and where we’re going because we don’t intend to stop now. We’re just starting,” she said.

(Reprinted with persmission from Melissa Gregory of The Town Talk)