A History of Our Lady of Mercy Parish
Build This House of God to His Glory
On May 14, 1972, Father Frey announced that Bishop Tracy has approved the plans for the construction of a permanent church at Our Lady of Mercy. Committees were appointed to lay the groundwork for funding a campaign, hiring an architect, and additional details necessary in a project of this magnitude. In 1973, the fundraising drive exceeded its goal of $300,000 by $152,800. However, it was soon realized that with escalating inflation the original estimated cost was pitifully inadequate, and the final estimate was $1.5 million.
Our Lady of Mercy’s third and permanent church was dedicated June 1, 1975 by Bishop Joseph V. Sullivan, Baton Rouge’s second bishop. Present for the concelebrated mass were Mercy’s present and former pastors and assistant pastors, as well as many chancery officials and priests of the diocese.
The church was dedicated with these words of faith:
The generous faith of our people
has built this House of God
to His Glory
for the eternal happiness of their loved ones
to ask His blessings upon all who come to their church.
Contrasting elements were combined in the third church to enhance the beauty and charm of the church ¬ combining modern with traditional, the elegant with the ordinary and the functional with the decorative. The 50-foot vaulted ceiling of silver wood is supported by graceful laminated arches, which are in turn supported by twin concrete columns connected by concrete beams. An illusion of a “floating roof” is created by natural light coming through the glass sections between the ceiling and brick walls. This suggests God’s “tent” of the Old Testament and replaces the canopy, which formerly hung over the altar only.
The silver wood is timber that was dredged out of bayous in this area after being submerged for hundreds of years. As a result of submersion, the wood develops a gray or silver color from which it derives its name. The wood was sawed to a precise thickness to obtain acoustical fidelity of certain sounds.
The altar of the church is a simple rectangular stone resting on four square stone legs to form the Table of Sacrifice. The ambo, credence table and base for the tabernacle are formed from the same type of stone as the altar. Paul Dufour, a local artist, designed the tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant in mind. The four sides of the bronze tabernacle have the four archangels: Gabriel on the north, facing the altar, Uriel on the south, Michael on the east, and Raphael on the west A replica of Anton Lang’s “The Dead Christ” hangs on the back wall of the sanctuary. The hand carved crucifix was purchased in Oberammergau Germany in 1964 from native artists.
The 1,000-pipe organ was designed by Schantz Organ Company and was the first from that company to be installed in south Louisiana. The pipes range from 12 feet to smaller than a tiny pencil, and include pipes transferred from the organ, which the parish used from 1956 to 1975. The 16 ranks of pipes can produce 61 notes, each filling the church building with reverberating sounds. Since it is not an electronic organ, the instrument should last as long as it is domiciled in the church.
The same type of stone that is used in the sanctuary is also used for the baptismal font, located at the main church entrance. A large stained glass window depicting the Holy Spirit presiding over the movement of water in which the baptized are spiritually washed and purified forms the back wall of the sunken baptistery. Stained glass windows also form the sidewalls in the church. The one on the north side, in the rear of what is known as Mary’s Chapel, portrays the Holy Trinity and the bestowal of God’s blessing on mankind, while the story of redemption is traced through etchings of the mysteries of the rosary. The joyful mysteries are etched in blue and white, the sorrowful in red and white and the glorious in gold and blue. These etchings surround a figure of the Blessed Virgin rendered in glass.
There is another stained glass wall on the south side of the church, behind the tabernacle. The nave of the church is adorned with five alcoves, each containing a life size marble statue: the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. Anthony, and St. Jude. A sixth statue, the Holy Infant of Prague, is found along the west wall in Mary’s Chapel. The statues were crafted by artists in Pietrasanta, Italy, of white carrera marble.
The Stations of the Cross, which line the walls of the nave of the church, were inspired by the Stations of the Cross at St. Joseph Cathedral’s which are also mosaic panels. Our Lady of Mercy’s Stations of the Cross were also crafted in Pietrasanta by mosaic academic artists using what is known as the reverse method. In this way each panel is composed of thousands of small pieces of colored glass and gold, reinforced with concrete and backed with a brass cassina.
Another set of Stations of the Cross is found in the Meditation Garden, which is immediately south of the church. This garden had been part of the plan when the current church was built. But because of the escalating costs in building the church it was added some years later.
The bell tower calls the faithful to worship with its three bells as it stands as a sentinel at the front of the church. These were donated by the family of a faithful parishioner.
The following year, Father Frey, who seemed to never run out of ideas to improve the facilities, dedicated an altar in the Meditation Garden adjacent to the church. The altar was dedicated to the memory of the deceased priests and religious who have served in the Baton Rouge Diocese. The altar would be used for extra masses at Christmas and Easter times.
By this time a new rectory, and a new convent had also been constructed. On Saturday, July 24, 1976, disaster struck. The skylight in the apex of the church was hit by lightning. The resulting damage, estimated at $50,000, required removal of church services to the gym/auditorium while repairs were being made. After two months, the congregation was back in the church with repairs complete.
The parish expansion continued and in 1977 the Parish Council acquired the property across from the church on Marquette Avenue. The property was used to house the Sunday nursery, choir rehearsal room and meeting facility. Additional church parking was added.
In January 1979, the parish was saddened by the death of Monsignor Marionneaux. Many parishioners, including the choir, traveled to St. Gabriel for the funeral and to say good-bye to this holy man who had given so much to his people. It was remarkable that this priest from an obscure village could have accomplished so much through his goodness and dedication to God. His life seemed to give further meaning to the fact that all good things are possible with God.
A school improvement plan was begun in 1982 to increase the capacity of the school. The first new building, constructed across the street from the main building and adjacent to the new convent, would be the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. The second phase would be to expand the administrative offices and teachers’ workroom, and to relocate the learning centers. The third phase would be to build a middle school building, complete with new cafeteria, kitchen, library, language and science labs and auditorium. When school began in 1983, kindergarten and first grade classes were held in the new Early Childhood Center.