VILLE PLATTE, La. — Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church is celebrating 100 years of faith, family and community this weekend with a centennial banquet and Mass. From its humble beginnings as a little red schoolhouse, to the thriving epicenter of Lake Charles black middle class and now a historic religious center in rebirth after Hurricane Rita’s devastation, the church is celebrating its centennial “looking at our past and hopeful of the future.”
Unlike many Catholic schools that are birthed out of a church and parish need, the Sacred Heart community began first as a school in 1908, a testimony of the parish’s innate drive to interweave faith and family life into one. The church was established in 1919 after black community members and white religious leaders petitioned the Diocese of Lafayette for an official location for African Americans to worship.
Integrated long before the concept was legalized, Sacred Heart’s white priests and nuns facilitated Catholic worship and education for Lake Charles’ growing black population.
“We were completely integrated,” Charles Honore, centennial committee chairman, said. “This was the first integrated parish in the Lake Charles Diocese and the Lafayette Diocese.”
Throughout its history, unity spanned beyond clergy and parishioner to include each individual’s family commitment to the church, he said. At its peak in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Honore said the church held six services on Sundays for 3,000 families and 9,000 parishioners.
Eula Mae Carmon, a 90-plus-year-old member of the church, recalled the church’s historic place within Lake Charles’ religious society in the 20th century. “They had people from Prien Lake and Gossport who would come to church here because that was the only black church,” she said.
The growing but commuting population of the church caused a need for additional black Catholic chapels in the area. Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church and St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church were both formed out of Sacred Heart’s growth.
“It was almost like Sacred Heart gave birth to other parishes,” she said.
Sacred Heart’s growth was due in large part to entire families taking part in church’s activities.
“We had church fairs and dances every weekend. And everybody would work. I worked, oh God, from morning to night and my baby boy would be right there with me,” Rose Jolivette, a 90-plus-year-old member of the church, said.
The close-knit family culture of Sacred Heart allowed many in the congregation to rise in social status through the acquisition of trades or jobs opportunities due the Sacred Heart connection, Honore said. The quality education afforded through the school allowed many to move on to university or college, bringing wealth to the community otherwise not available.
“Because of this church it developed into the middle class of Lake Charles,” Honore said. “They had good jobs. They worked across the lake. They were artisans, brick layers, cement finishers and all these people came and they built all of this,” he said explaining how church members built, expanded and renovated the facilities whenever needed.
While the church was thriving during one of the country’s darkest periods, it was not passive toward the political and social turmoil of the Civil Rights era, Honore said.
“The priests in the church, they would encourage us to participate in civic activities and to get involved,” he said.
Their involvement, however, was not always received with positivity.
“Our pastor Father Roach and Mrs. Combre, they were the leaders in getting students registered at McNeese for the integration of McNeese. The KKK burned a cross here and at Mrs. Combre’s home right here on Enterprise Boulevard. But they were instrumental in assisting students with getting enrolled at McNeese in the ‘50s.”
Sacred Heart members said they are truly “hopeful of the future” for their parish.
Carolyn Carmon Jones, daughter of Eula Mae, said a return to the family values that founded the church could be instrumental in revitalizing the black community.
“It didn’t matter how late we went to bed. We got up and we went to church,” she said.
Jolivette agreed saying, “I think everybody would be closer, who knows? I would just love to see it just back the way it was.”
Centennial celebrations will kick off with a banquet at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Buccaneer Room of the Lake Charles Civic Center. Tickets are $100.
A wine and cheese social hour, including a silent auction, will open the evening; the banquet will commence at 7 p.m. with Judge George C. Hanks Jr. as the guest speaker. Hanks, a former member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, was appointed as a U.S. District Judge by President Barack Obama in 2015.
The church will celebrate with a “Mass of Thanksgiving” at 11 a.m. Sunday. The Most Rev. Bishop Glenn John Provost, bishop of Lake Charles; the Rev. Uche Adiukwu, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church pastor; the Rev. Robert Boxie III of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C.; and the Rev. Robert Boxie III, former Sacred Heart parishioner, will preside over the service.
For more information or tickets to the banquet, call (337) 439-2646 or visit the church office at 1102 Mill St.
Information from: American Press, http://www.americanpress.com