A crowd of 1,500 people waited anxiously in the dark outside the finally completed Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Kenner Nov. 16, anticipating walking into their new church for the first time. For some, the wait seemed short, considering it took more than three decades to get there.
“What a wonderful night,” Archbishop Aymond told the excited crowd at the rite of dedication Mass. “It is a blessed night as we come together to dedicate and consecrate this parish.”
Before entering, the archbishop accepted the keys and plans of the church from the Post Architects and F.H. Myers Construction Corp.
He then entrusted the keys to Father David Dufour, pastor, and led a procession inside. Even though the church was built to seat 900 and accommodate an overflow crowd of 1,000, hundreds stood in side aisles during the two-hour dedication. Even without illumination until after the lighting of the Paschal candle, the church’s beauty had everyone in awe.
An answer to prayer
“I can’t believe this,” said founding St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner Lynn Marcel, who attended the dedication with her husband Brian. “How long we have waited. It is our dream come true. It is more than we expected.”
The trek to constructing a new church began in earnest in July 2009, when the former parishes of Nativity of Our Lord (founded in 1977) and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (founded in 1981) merged. Neither of the churches could accommodate the new parish, which had doubled in parishioners overnight, so a new church was planned to be built in phases on almost 19 acres that the archdiocese owned in northwest Kenner.
Phase I was to include only the new church, but the archdiocese realized a community center was also needed. Site preparation has already begun on the center. The archdiocese also gave Divine Mercy financial benchmarks that would trigger Phase II to include a new school. The current school operates on the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton site about a mile away.
Tears of sadness were shed by parishioners from both parishes the week before when last Masses were celebrated in their churches.
That sadness calmed a bit when familiar remnants of both former parishes were visible in the new church – the altar candles and statues from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; the Joyful Mysteries stained glass from Nativity adorns the new perpetual adoration chapel, accessible from the north side of the church.
New sacred objects include stained-glass windows of the 12 apostles from the suppressed St. Joan of Arc Pocono Summit Mission church in Pennsylvania on all 12 doors of the church; mosaic stations of the cross from the former St. Frances Cabrini in Gentilly; and a stained glass of the Divine Mercy Jesus prominently above the main entrance door, created by Ruth Goliwas.
The name of the new parish – Divine Mercy, voted on by both parishes – also was visible in the carvings on the pews, the arched supports of the cathedral ceilings above the altar and cruciform design with an entrance narthex that serves as a gathering place.
Archbishop Aymond, Father Dufour and parochial vicar Father Bryan Howard sanctified the church and the people with holy water to become one in Christ as a reminder of baptism.
“May all who enter today and all those in days to come who gather in prayer and celebrate the mysteries of your church be united one day in the holy city of your peace in your heavenly Jerusalem,” Archbishop Aymond said.
Deacon Noel Martinsen read the Gospel recounting Jesus’ visit to the temple only to find it being used for purposes other than worshiping God. Archbishop Aymond then delivered the homily, beginning with a question.
“Do you like the new church?” he asked, followed by rousing applause. “It is indeed beautiful.” He referenced the Gospel of how it took 46 years to build the temple in Jerusalem. “I congratulate you,” he said. “It took you much less time.”
He acknowledged that the merger of the two parish families as one had been a long process but said their merger was an example for others to follow.
“You have stayed together as God’s people, and you have persevered. You have gone through the challenges and questions and mixed feelings, and today we have come to say thanks be to God and all are welcome in this place.”
Everyone was overjoyed
“It’s going to be wonderful,” said Kathy Del Rio, a founding St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner and assistant school principal who has waited more than 30 years for a church with pews, calling to mind St. Elizabeth’s yellow plastic chairs and joking that she is now too old to kneel. “We are excited. Finally, we have a real church.”
Archbishop Aymond mentioned the special objects inside the church: the altar is the family table; the ambo is the table of God’s word that reaches hearts and ears in the homily and “gives direction to our lives and redirects us when there are times that you and I become lost.”
He said the baptismal font is where new members will be welcomed. The rooms of reconciliation, he said, are used “when we need that divine mercy of God.
“We sneak into those reconciliation rooms and unload our hearts and give over to God our weakness of sin and we are reassured that from the lips of God, the hand of God that he will give to us his divine mercy,” he said.
The tabernacle is the sign of Christ’s eternal presence among us, and the statues represent the members of the Catholic family whom we want to imitate.
“We come here together with great rejoicing,” Archbishop Aymond said. “The dream of this church has finally become a blessed reality. This beautiful church is given to God as a gift. And what does he give us in return? A promise – I will be with you always. And as people will pass this beautiful structure, they will be reminded that it is a dwelling place of God but also that the church, the Catholic church in Kenner, is alive and well.”
After anointing the altar with sacred chrism, incensing it and dressing it with altar linens and flowers, a relic of St. Faustina was placed under the altar. The paschal candle was lit and the lights in the church were turned on.
“Today, we have completed the process; we have knocked and the doors of this remarkable work of architecture are now open to each of us to worship and give thanks and praise to our Lord,” said Marion Perret, a Divine Mercy parishioner who was on the parish merger team and building committee.
Father Dufour breathed a sigh of relief at the dedication. His merged parish family finally can worship in the same church.
“When we worship at one site, there will be more of a sense of unity,” he said. Dedicated to the Divine Mercy, the church will “deepen our sense of identity and love for our merciful Lord. From that sense of identity comes our mission to be open to his mercy and to share that mercy with others, especially the most in need of his mercy.”
Divine Mercy has new Mass times: a 4 p.m. Vigil and 6:30 Spanish Mass on Saturdays; and 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Teen Mass on Sundays.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.
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