A History of Our Lady of Mercy Parish
Mother of Mercy Mission Chapel
The seeds of Our Lady of Mercy Parish were sown in 1943 by Father Dominic Blasco, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish within the Diocese of Baton Rouge. At that time, Sacred Heart parish was very large, extending from the site of its present location on Main and 22nd Street, to the Amite River.
Father Blasco feared the restrictions of World War II, gasoline rationing, scarcity of tires, and other obstacles would cause considerable hardship or even prevent parishioners from attending religious services. He decided that a mission located in the Goodwood area of Baton Rouge would make it easier for those Catholics living in the eastern part of the parish to attend services. He privately pursued a feasibility study on the viability of a mission and continued praying to God for guidance.
At the same time Father Blasco was praying and studying, two men were planning to open a nightclub in the Goodwood area, but encountered problems in getting the necessary business permits to do so. After abandoning the idea of a nightclub and hearing of Father Blasco’s search for a mission chapel site, the two men offered the building once planned for use as a nightclub to Father Blasco free of charge for as long as he needed it. Upon receiving approval from the Most Reverend Joseph Francis Rummel, Archbishop of New Orleans, Father Blasco immediately accepted the two men’s proposal.
The nightclub building was located across the street from the downtown airport on the western side of the curve where Government Street blends into Lobdell Avenue. It served well as a mission church from March 1943 until August 1947.
The entry made on the mission’s first day ledger was effectively concise: “Catechism class was held for the first time in the chapel of Mother of Mercy on March 13, 1943. Nine children attended” – D. Blasco.
Assisted by a congregation of 240 members in the new mission, Father Blasco celebrated his first mass on March 14, 1943. On that day, he announced that Archbishop Rummel had committed the mission to the Blessed Virgin Mary and a dedication mass would be sung on the following Sunday. Thereafter, masses would be celebrated weekly at 7:30 on Sunday mornings and at 6:30 on Tuesday mornings. Two weeks later, the much loved Monsignor Francis Leo Gassler, dedicated the mission.
For the next 14 months, the pages of the day ledger are replete with a virtual litany of announcements and appeals: “Pray for, … the spiritually and bodily welfare of our dear ones in the armed forces; . . . the starving and suffering men, women and children in the war torn countries … the speedy restoration of peace;” and so on. Occasionally, the poignant and reiterative supplication were punctuated with, ” … we are dispensed from the law of fast and abstinence because of the way; please do not forget to send your children to catechism class next Saturday at 9; … Our Sunday Visitor only costs two cents, so be sure to get a copy and pass it on.” Now and then there would be a special announcement, such as when the congregation was notified on March 29, 1943, that a small manual organ had been delivered and that Rita Wetta was to be the organist.
The mission chapel carried out its religious function in facilities, which were meager and simple. There was just one section of pews with an aisle on each side. The sanctuary was located on a raised platform originally intended for the bandstand of the aborted nightclub venture. The altar was originally purchased in 1896 for St. Joseph’s Church downtown, and later was secured by Father Blasco for the chapel of Mother of Mercy. It was moved to Sacred Heart 30 years later when it was a mission and then to the Chapel of Mother of Mercy almost 30 years after.
When the war in Europe ended on V-E Day, May 8, 1945, interest in establishing a permanent parish in the Goodwood area gained momentum. By this time, there were two masses on Sunday with attendance averaging 300 people. Weekly collections were about $100. Father Blasco periodically met with parishioners informally to discuss the possibility of starting a parish.
On December 3, 1946, at the request of Archbishop Rummel, Father Blasco met with Monsignor Lucien Caillouet and Monsignor Jean Eyraud to discuss the separation of Mother of Mercy Mission from Sacred Heart parish. After much deliberation, it was agreed that approximately 700 families in the area of about 30 square miles in the eastern section of Sacred Heart Parish should have a parish of their own.
Father Blasco announced to his parishioners on April 14, 1947, that the creation of a new parish had been recommended to Archbishop Rummel, and six acres were procured from Dr. and Mrs. J. H. McCaa. The new parish would be located at the corner of Government and Marquette streets, approximately a mile west of Mother of Mercy Mission Chapel.