Behold, new things have come to Assumption Church in Braithwaite.
The little mission church that was inundated by Hurricane Isaac on Aug. 29, 2012, was flooded with light and love on May 26 as parishioners gathered for the dedication of their rebuilt place of worship.
“We remember what it looked like right after Isaac,” said Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who visited the church just after the floodwaters had receded. He remembers seeing knee-deep mud, slithering snakes and a community in shambles. He remembers seeing the altar near the front door, and pews filled with seaweed.
He will remember something different from May 26: A church made new. There were new walls, a new altar, and new pews, filled with people of faith happy to be home.
“This is a joyful and historic day,” the archbishop said before blessing the church with holy water and anointing the altar with chrism.
“Isaac’s wind and water took away from this community many things,” Archbishop Aymond said. Isaac, however, “did not take away your belief in a faithful God. … It did not take away your desire to make this your home.”
The desire to rebuild the church building they called home was shared by the families and friends of Assumption Church and Father Joseph M. Tran, pastor of both Assumption and its mother church St. Thomas in Pointe a la Hache.
“This church had never flooded,” Father Tran said, not even in Katrina. “The people here feel uprooted.”
The dedication Mass gave them a reason to thank God and celebrate their roots, which run deep in this community.
Theresa Sullivan, who worked day and night to get the church ready for its dedication, has had family in Braithwaite since her great-grandfather moved from Italy in the 1800s as a farmer. It was her great uncle, Frank Manichia, who donated the land where the church stands.
Sullivan is the pastoral assistant at Assumption, but this church is more than a place of work. “This is my home,” she said.
It was Sullivan who pulled on her shrimp boots after Isaac and slogged through the mud to rescue statues and tapestries from the devastated church building, loading them in her husband’s truck and making sure they were refurbished and ready for the dedication.
There were many others who had stories to share and reasons to celebrate.
Father Tran was particularly grateful for the help of contractor Warren Campagna, who said just after the storm: “Father, there is nothing to worry about. We will help you rebuild.” Campagna did help, and he did more than that, Father Tran said: “You gave us hope.”
“It’s a wonderful day,” said parishioner Mercedes Caluda, who has been in Braithwaite for 18 years and is there to stay.
“This is home,” said Florence Trumbaturi, who lived in Braithwaite all of her life, teaching CCD for 56 years until she moved to Belle Chasse after Isaac. Her house may be farther away, but she still comes to Assumption for Mass each Sunday. “And if they start teaching CCD again, I’ll come back.”
Those are the kind of stories that need to be told, Archbishop Aymond said. “Memories of the storm are deeply engraved in your minds and hearts,” he told the congregation. Stories of loss and devastation will no doubt be shared for years, but be sure that “the rest of the story is told. A story of faith … a reminder that God is with us through it all.”
“God never abandons his people,” he said.
Karen Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.