A History of Our Lady of Mercy Parish
The church was quickly outgrown. Classrooms along each side of the church were joined to the church by windows, which were opened during mass to allow parishioners to sit in the classrooms rather than stand in the back of the church.
As a result, the school resorted to holding classes in such places as, temporary buildings, the old church which had been divided into classrooms, the gym/church building, the pastor’s dining room, the principal’s office and in the reception room. Nevertheless, such difficulties did not lessen the enthusiasm of the parents. No students were known to have left during this time due to problems of space.
As the city continued to grow, multiple housing, apartment and subdivision developments within Mercy’s boundaries marked it as one of the fastest growing parishes in the diocese. By 1959, attendance at masses had surged to 2,350, an increase of 488 percent in 13 years as a parish.
Consequently, in June 1959, Archbishop Rummel created St. Thomas More Parish in the Sherwood Forest area, about four miles east of Our Lady of Mercy. Father Andrew Frey moved from Houma to Baton Rouge to become the founding pastor of Our Lady of Mercy’s daughter parish.
Our Lady of Mercy’s growing pains should have been eased with the establishment of St. Thomas More parish. However, within a few years, it became apparent that this presumption was unrealistic. Two events of great importance served to quicken the tempo of activity of Mercy.
The first was when the Baton Rouge Diocese was established on July 20, 1961. Our Lady of Mercy and 52 other parishes were transferred from the jurisdiction of the Archbishop Rummel in New Orleans to Bishop Robert E. Tracy, the first bishop of the newly formed diocese. A diocesan census recorded 1,200 families with 4,270 people as members of Our Lady of Mercy Parish.
Also in late 1961, Our Lady of Mercy welcomed four Salesian Sisters, known as Daughters of Mercy, Help of Christians. They assumed duties in connection with the school. Sister Theresa, Sister Elba, Sister Gloria and Sister Faraela had been exiled from Cuba along with 61 other nuns of their order when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba. These four women would be the forerunners of others who would faithfully serve Our Lady of Mercy School for 30 years. The sisters lived in a house across the street from the main school building. While learning English, they helped with religion classes and helped with minor duties in the school.
After ten years of leadership as principal of Our Lady of Mercy School, Mrs. Blanchard resigned her position, leaving the school leadership to the new principal Sister Philomena. Bishop Tracy praised Mrs. Blanchard at a testimonial dinner given in her honor for her inspiration and sacrifice and for “upholding Christian standards during a decade of magnificent contributions to Catholic education.”