By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
CREOLE — For the first time since Hurricane Laura, parishioners of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, East Cameron, finally have a place to attend Mass in their home community.
Gratitude was not lost on the 31 people in attendance when Rev. Jerish George, M.O.C., pastor of Sacred Heart, celebrated Mass for an emotional congregation at 4:00 p.m. on Oct. 9.
The Saturday liturgy marked the beginning of a regular schedule of Masses for lower Cameron Parish, including former parishioners of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Cameron and St. Eugene in Grand Chenier. The Vigil Mass will be celebrated at 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and daily Masses at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and 7:15 a.m. on Fridays will begin on Oct. 26.
The long-awaited worship space — a newly constructed barn — is located on the property of Stephanie and Nicky Rodrigue at 163 Mallard Lane, just one street west of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Life Center and Cemetery. It is an answer to prayer for the residents, many of whom have ties to lower Cameron Parish dating back several decades and have overcome their share of destruction from multiple hurricanes.
“It was very emotional and such a blessing,” said Allyson Bourriaque, who attended with her husband Kim. “We don’t need four walls, air-conditioning and heating, and all the luxuries. Just having Mass in Creole is already helping mend broken hearts and devastation that has occurred.”
Father Jerish had been searching for a place nearby to have Mass.
“I talked to Stephanie, and she told me that her barn was being built,” he said. “We are still without electricity, but the weather was so good, so I told her I would start celebrating Mass now. There is room for at least 50 people to sit comfortably, so as the word spreads, I hope more will be able to attend.”
Furniture was provided by very generous donors through Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, and John and Linda Joiner of Lafayette.
Stephanie said she and Nicky consider it a privilege to host both the weekly anticipated Mass on Saturdays as well as daily Masses on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Our barn, until the Life Center is repaired, is the official place of Catholic worship in lower Cameron Parish,” she confirmed as property owner and parish trustee. “We hope to have both power and water soon, but in the meantime, I think we are all just happy to be here.”
Stephanie praised the residents for their efforts to pull together in challenging times.
“Goose and Carla Richard helped clean and prepare the barn. Brent and Amanda Morales donated the use of portable restrooms. Others will be cleaning and setting up for Masses. We have a great little community here,” she said.
Formerly the pastor of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Oberlin, Father Jerish has been serving in the Diocese of Lake Charles since September 2019 as a priest for Missionaries of Compassion. He can sympathize with the residents of lower Cameron Parish in their loss of familiar surroundings.
“I am new to this area and don’t know many people, so now we can come together for Mass, and I can communicate with them,” he said. “Even though they are facing a difficult situation, they still want to come to church and have been eagerly waiting for a priest to say Mass for them.”
Debbie Savoie was among those who had been patiently waiting. She shared what it meant to attend Mass with her husband, Dave, and their 29-year-old son Jeremy, who is dependent on them for everything. Jeremy was born with a rare brain disorder (Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum) and is confined to a wheelchair.
“Going to Mass in Creole was very emotional for me because we were able to attend church as a family,” said Debbie. “Before the hurricane, Jeremy was at Mass with us every weekend. I would sit in the cry room with him because he can be very vocal at times. After the storms, I would go to Mass on Saturday afternoons to St. Mary of the Lake in Big Lake, and Dave would go on Sunday mornings, since it was difficult for Jeremy to travel.”
Debbie said she was so happy to be surrounded by friends at the recent Saturday vigil service. “I felt comfortable bringing Jeremy to Mass in Creole because everyone knows him here. This was a God-send,” she said. “Jeremy’s demeanor was pleasant, and he wasn’t acting out. He was happy to be at Mass.”
Allyson, who served as one of the lectors along with Stephanie, said she could hardly read from being teary-eyed.
“We had not had Mass in Creole in over a year. It was very emotional and such a reverent, beautiful service that Father Jerish officiated,” she said. “My husband and I had been putting aside over three hours on Sunday evenings to attend Mass at St. Henry in Lake Charles because of my husband’s work schedule. Being able to celebrate Mass back home in Creole is so healing.”
For Father Jerish, celebrating Mass with bare minimum necessities reminded him of his mission experience for seven years in Africa where it was not unusual for him to officiate Mass under the trees and thatched shed with grass roofing.
One of the things that attracted him to the priesthood in high school was witnessing priests from his home parish in the South Indian state of Kerala do missionary work in different countries.
“I was inspired to become a missionary priest to go around the world and work for the people,” he recalled. “Missionaries of Compassion focus on alleviating the suffering of the poor, providing for their spiritual and material needs, and administering the sacraments.”
Father Jerish is doing everything possible to be available to families along the coast and in Sweetlake, travelling wherever he is needed. He will also continue to celebrate Mass on Sundays at 8:00 a.m. in the church hall of St. Mary of the Lake.
“As a community, our Catholic presence remains strong in spite of repair delays that seem to continue to be the norm for Southwest Louisiana,” Stephanie said. “Father Jerish now has two locations to celebrate Masses and administer the sacraments.”