ST. MARY OF FALSE RIVER CATHOLIC CHURCH

When the young French missionary, Antoine Blanc, was assigned as pastor of St. Francis of Pointe Coupée in 1820, that church was already nearing its century mark, having been founded in 1738 on the banks of the Mississippi River at the Post de la Pointe Coupée.  Records of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and St. Francis from that era tell us that soon after becoming pastor, Father Blanc “saw a need for a new church to be situated for the convenience of his parish,” that is, on the banks of False River, where much of the population had settled.  Without wasting time, construction on the new church was begun.  The plan was simple  – a wood frame building, 33 feet wide by 80 feet long, was to be built on a piece of land donated by Marie Pourciau Olinde, near the spot where the “new road” from the old community on the Mississippi River intersected with the public road along False River.

Father Blanc decided to dedicate this new church to the Virgin Mary, and in 1823, he wrote friends in his native diocese of Lyon, France, that he hoped the dedication could take place on the Feast of the Assumption in that year.  He wrote further that while the plan of the church, “which is regular,” surpassed their expectations, and while the “smallness of the steeple is charming,” he regretted there was no bell to put in it.  Later, two priests of Lyon, J. and L. Boue, cousins of Pere Blanc, would send a bell for the first St. Mary Church.

We can imagine the joy that Father Blanc must have felt when he was joined by his younger brother, Jean Baptiste, in time for the dedication of the new church, which had been delayed by a few months.  Jean Baptiste Blanc had come to America as a deacon in the summer of 1822 to devote himself to the same missions in Louisiana that his brother served.  On October 19, 1823, Jean Baptiste assisted his brother Antoine at the dedication of the first church of St. Mary of False River, which stood within a few hundred feet of the present church.  Five days later, Jean Baptiste would become the first priest ordained in Louisiana by Bishop DuBourg at Donaldsonville.  Some 12 years later, Antoine Blanc would be elevated to the episcopacy, serving first as Bishop, then Archbishop of New Orleans (1835-60).  He died on the eve of the Civil War.

St. Mary continued as a mission church of St. Francis of Pointe Coupée, and was served by the pastors of St. Francis until after the Civil War, when the Archbishop of New Orleans raised St. Mary to the canonical status of an independent parish in 1865.  Joseph Philibert Gutton was assigned as pastor of St. Mary, and this much beloved priest, Pere Gutton, a native of Lyon, served St. Mary for 31 years.  Today, St. Francis of Pointe Coupée is a mission church of St. Mary’s and Mass is still celebrated there every Sunday.

Near the turn of the 20th century, plans got underway to build a larger church for the congregation of St. Mary.  In 1904, construction was begun on the present Gothic-style church, designed by Theodore Brune, a New Orleans architect.  The contractors were Koerner and Murphy, and the brick for the structure was made by J.P. Gosserand’s New Roads Brickyard.

Although declared complete in 1907, the steeple remained (and still remains) without a spire, and the interior finishes and rich Gothic details envisioned by Mr. Brune (which can be observed at his similarly designed St. Joseph Catholic Church in Greenville, Mississippi) were never installed.

Wade Bouanchaud contracted for the simpler interior details now seen in the church.  In 1907, Fr. Blanc’s smaller wood church was taken down.  The pastorate of Father John Hoes ushered in the “Dutch period” of St. Mary pastors, for he and his successor, Father John Janssen, together served the parish for a period of 50 years from 1912-62.  It was during the long pastorate of Father Hoes that many beautiful features were installed in the church, thanks to the generosity of the parishioners.  The oil-painted Stations of the Cross were hung in 1916.  The five Munich-style stained-glass windows in the sanctuary apse, which depict the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, are from the studio of F.X. Zettler of Chicago, and were installed in 1921.  The side windows, which depict the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries, were also made in Munich and are from the Emil Frei company of St. Louis.  They were added in the late 1930s.  The tower of the church was completed in 1929 with the erection of the cast stone open tracery work of Mr. Brune’s new design as manufactured by Victor Lachin’s Architectural Cast Stone Company of New Orleans.  Father Hoes noted for posterity that the tympanum panel of Our Lord’s Assumption over the main doors of the church was executed by Mr. Lachin’s father, Angelo, “who was working as designing sculptor artist on St. Mark Basilica in Venice.

The present bell in the tower is “Marie Seraphine.”  It had been installed in the old St. Mary Church in 1876 after being shipped on the steamer “Robert E. Lee” from its foundry in Troy, New York.  It is not known what became of the original bell given to the old church by the cousins of Father Blanc.

“God Bless the noble efforts of the Josephite Fathers,” Father Hoes noted in his journal in 1923 when writing about the newly-erected parish of St. Augustine Church for the black members of this community, long a dream of his and theirs.  St. Augustine was founded to better serve the needs of black Catholics, who had begun to join other churches.  The first Mass was celebrated in a store used for a chapel until the new church of St. Augustine, located on New Roads Street, was completed.  Thereafter, Father Hoes had the side balconies, which had been reserved for black parishioners, removed from the interior of St. Mary, and at the same time, certain other interior improvements were made by John Morel.

In early 1931, the Hinners Organ Company of Pekin, Illinois, offered Father Hoes a “two manual” instrument having a total of 433 full scale pipe ... really a fine organ, having been used only about 14 years.  Father Hoes acquired this splendid used organ for $1,650, less a 5-percent cash discount.  The organ is still in use today, having been rebuilt in the 1960's.

St. Mary was solemnly reconsecrated in 1979 upon completion of interior renovations, during the pastorate of Father Frank Uter.  The original wood altars and other sanctuary furnishings were modified and restored to conform to the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.

Though never completed as originally designed, the church of St. Mary of False River is beautiful in its simplicity.  Hopefully, it is a constant reminder to us that our faith journey here on earth will never be completed until we are with the Lord in eternity!

On August 15, 1992, Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist was inaugurated in St. Mary Parish.  It is open 24 hours a day (7 days a week) and adorers are welcome.

On September 19, 1992, Albert Cardinal Decourtray of Lyon honored St. Mary Church by visiting during the bicentennial year of Antoine Blanc’s birth.  Cardinal Decourtray and Bishop Stanley J. Ott dedicated the beautiful new stained-glass windows on the front facade of the church, located behind the choir loft.  These windows were executed by Laukhuff Stained Glass of Memphis, and they depict eight scenes from the early history of the Catholic Church in the parish, including the 1699 landing of Iberville at Pointe Coupée, the establishment of St. Francis in 1738, and the dedication of the first St. Mary Church in 1823.  The windows aren’t easily seen from the nave, but can be reviewed during daylight hours in the choir loft, or from the front plaza of the church each night when they are illuminated.

After its founding in 1823 as a mission of St. Francis of Pointe Coupée (which is now a mission of St. Mary’s and is located on the River Road between New Roads and Morganza near Sugar-land Plantation), St. Mary was served by the pastors of St. Francis for 42 years: Antoine Blanc, Jean Baptiste Blanc, and Francis Mittelbronn. 

In 1865, St. Mary was raised to the status of an independent parish, and its pastors since then have been:

Joseph Philibert Gutton, 1865-96
Francis Cooles, 1896-99
Francis La Roche, 1899-1905
Alfred Bacciochi, 1905-13
John Hoes, 1913-42
John Janssen, 1942-62
A.J. LeBlanc, 1962-74
Christopher Springer, 1974-76
Frank M.  Uter, 1976-84
Victor G. Messina, 1984-87
Miles D. Walsh, 1987-94
Mark A. Alise, 1994-1996
Michael J. Schatzle, 1996-2005
Robert Stine, 2005-2011
Robert F. Berggreen, 2011-Present

In addition, the parish has been served by many fine associate pastors.  St. Mary was especially blessed to have the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille working in the parish in the realm of Catholic education.  The sisters of St. Joseph arrived in New Roads in 1904 and established St. Joseph Academy, the institution which preceded the current interparochial Pre-K through 12 school system, Catholic Inter-Parochial of Pointe Coupée. The Sisters remained in the parish until 2013.

In 1924, St. Mary’s present rectory was completed.  Its original two story front porch was converted to office and living space during the 1960s.  The Parish Hall, which stands where the old St. Joseph Academy gymnasium was located, was dedicated in 1981, and the grounds of St. Mary Church were landscaped shortly thereafter.  The St. Joseph Center, located between the church and the Parish Hall, was dedicated in 1992.  A new Parish Office and new Adoration Chapel were built in 2004 on adjacent property acquired by the parish in 1984.  The buildings were dedicated on December 12, 2004, by Bishop Robert W. Muench.

 

 
Online Giving

Online Giving

Secure and Convenient Donate now!