On Divine Mercy Sunday April 23, parishioners of Assumption of Mary Church in Avondale dedicated its new entrance and bell tower with a procession of their patroness, Assumption of Mary, and also a Divine Mercy picture as well as a blessing and Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
“This new entrance and new doors are a sign of welcome that you extend to those who come here as part of the family and also to those who are visiting, that they are welcomed in your home and your family,” Archbishop Aymond said prior to the blessing and Mass. “So, the new renovations are a sign of your desire to reach out and be there for all those who want to come.”
The original church built in 1985 was a mission to St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh until it became a parish when current pastor, Father Peter Hoai Nguyen, was appointed in 2014.
Father Hoai said he noticed immediately the church lacked a cry room and was windowless. He then experienced water coming into the entrance during heavy rains.
“It was time to do something,” he said.
Several meetings with the parish’s pastoral and financial councils resulted in a decision to build a new entrance. A capital campaign began and permission from the archdiocese was sought to build a new entrance and bell tower.
Father Hoai said former parishioner Truc “Thomas” Nguyen, with Armstrong Construction, donated his services, time and money. Architect Loi Dang of Sauviac and Dang Architectural Design in Baton Rouge and Jim Pichoff of American Metal Fab Inc. (structural steel work) also worked on the 216-square-foot addition.
Dang initially observed that the church didn’t have a gathering space for wedding parties and post-Mass receptions. He kept that in mind when parishioners discussed the look for Assumption’s new entrance. A Vietnamese-inspired flavor to the exterior was desired, and Dang designed a pagoda-shaped addition with a cross on top.
The top tier of the new entrance towers 40 feet, 8 inches tall. With a cross atop the tower, it is 5 feet taller, said Andre Villere, Building Office director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He estimated total construction cost at approximately $350,000.
God’s light desired
Father Hoai said four new glass doors replace the previous iron entrance doors, allowing desired light to shine inside the sanctuary.
“I love to use natural light in church,” Father Hoai said. “Before, the church doors didn’t have windows. When I came, I removed two doors on the right and one on the left and put glass doors so people can see the natural light of God’s light shining through them.”
The addition also is used as an informal cry room with the addition of chairs. It also has glass doors into the sanctuary, travertine on the floor and natural red oak panels on the ceiling.
“I wanted to use that space as a cry room” with glass so parents can participate in the liturgy, Father Nguyen said.
Other features of note on the new entrance: 12 steps – six on each side – that represent the 12 apostles, and a copper, almost life-size replica of the last supper was mounted to the right of the entrance surrounded by five different plants that signify the five loaves and two fish in the Bible. A handicapped ramp is available to the left of the entrance.
Archbishop Aymond said the dedication, faith and resources of parishioners made the addition of the beautiful new entrance possible. He thanked those who supported the project both spiritually and financially.
Mentioning the Gospel of the day, Archbishop Aymond told Assumption of Mary parishioners that their church was their sacred place just like the Upper Room in the Gospel was the sacred place where the risen Christ revealed himself to the apostles.
“In the same way, your church, what we call your home, is a sacred place,” he said. “It is holy ground because it is in your church that people are welcomed, that you are welcomed and that the risen Christ reveals himself to you through the word of Scripture and through the Eucharist as we receive the risen Christ. Today, we are privileged to remember not only the sacred place of the Upper Room for the apostles, but also today, your ‘upper room,’ the sacred place for you where Mass is celebrated, where you gather as a family.”
Being a predominantly Vietnamese parish of 700-800 families, Assumption celebrates the Tet Vietnamese New Year to keep Vietnamese traditions alive for future generations, Father Hoai said.
“We have mostly elderly and want to let the young people have a chance to know about these traditions,” he said. “We want them to visit their parents and grandparents and wish them good health (as is done in Vietnam) and continue to be part of their lives. And for our parishioners over 65, we want to remember them with a gift in the new year celebration and recognize them for their contributions. It’s to make them feel they are still very special to us.”
Father Hoai said he is awaiting a bronze bell from a church in Vietnam to replace electronic bells currently in the tower. When it arrives, he said it will ring one hour before Mass and a second time five minutes before Mass, in the Vietnamese tradition.
Also in the Vietnamese tradition, a feast of spring rolls, roast quail, soup with quail eggs, fried rice and more were served after the dedication.
Pastoral council president Khoa Nguyen, who has worshipped at Assumption of Mary for decades, is proud of the new addition.
“We want to make the best for God’s house and for the people to worship,” Nguyen said.
“This means time for us to renew our spirit, a new spirit,” Father Hoai said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.