Just 17 days after Vatican Council II was convened in Rome in 1962, a significant date was etched in the history of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Terrytown. On Oct. 27, 1962, Christ the King Catholic Church celebrated its first Mass, said Archbishop Gregory Aymond at the parish’s 50th anniversary celebration Nov. 25 – the Feast of Christ the King.
“Father (W. Michael) Landry found a faith-filled community,” Archbishop Aymond told the diverse crowd of past and current parishioners who packed the church for the anniversary Mass. “People who were generous, dedicated and had a vision.”
The parish, founded Sept. 12, 1962, first celebrated Mass at Archbishop Blenk High School in Gretna. Groundbreaking for the church/school complex was held April 21, 1963.
Marianite Sister Judith Coreil, who attended the anniversary celebration with fellow Marianite Sister Marie Noel, said the school building was not completed in time for the school’s opening, so two nuns and lay faculty taught its 420 students in three homes lent to the parish by a local home builder.
“It was quite a challenge,” Sister Coreil said.
Finally, on April 12, 1964, the church/school complex was dedicated by Archbishop John Cody. Within six years, the school had grown to 905 students, said Sister Marie, who was principal from 1972-79.
“The parish grew, and it was a sensational and exceptional beginning,” Archbishop Aymond said. “It continued to grow and become one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese.”
Permanent church built
By 1978, parishioners began working to raise money for a permanent church. A groundbreaking was held in November 1980. Finally, in 1982, Archbishop Philip Hannan and long-time pastor Msgr. Joseph Bourgeois dedicated the current church building.
“For half a century, Christ the King Parish and School have provided a very effective ministry and have called people to a life of discipleship,” Archbishop Aymond said.
He also mentioned a challenging time for the people and the parish – Hurricane Katrina. Christ the King Church had significant storm damage, and parishioners had to worship for 18 months in the original church building affectionately dubbed the “church-ateria.”
During the renovations, then-pastor Father José Ladra died. Current pastor, Father Michael Nam Nguyen, was appointed in 2007.
“This parish never gives up but perseveres and leans on the Lord,” said Archbishop Aymond, who then thanked the parishioners and priests who have faithfully served the parish. “Your commitment today has made this church alive for 50 years.”
Archbishop Aymond noted the diversity of the parish – Latinos, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Americans of several European cultures – as one of the most diverse communities in the archdiocese, which continues to be a sign of God’s love.
He told them they understood that Jesus Christ, the king, came to earth for all people.
“Regardless of our differences, we are one family and come together to worship Christ the King,” he said.
Challenge: What’s next?
The archbishop then invited everyone to recommit to Jesus by thanking him for the 50 years they’ve had, and to look toward the future by asking: what more is God asking of us; to look beyond those active in the church and invite others who have fallen away to return; and to continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“This is a special day for me and for all of us,” Father Nguyen said at the end of Mass. “We come to celebrate as a family of different backgrounds, languages and colors of skin. Each of us makes a difference in our parish.”
Father Nguyen said his community is unique because it goes beyond being trilingual to what he called “qualingual.”
The celebration continued after Mass in the “church-ateria” with an ethnic smorgasbord – a potluck dinner of turkey, gumbo, pasta, Vietnamese egg rolls, fried rice, seven-layer salad and more. There were displays of parish memorabilia and a video produced by parishioner Man Pham.
“Best of luck for the next 50 years of Christ the King,” Father Nguyen said, toasting at the reception.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.