|History of St. Anselm Parish|
A History of St. Anselm Catholic Church by Rev. Alan Weseman
In 1841 the first parish on the Northshore was established in Madisonville. It was named St. Francis Xavier in honor of the great Jesuit missionary. In the early years a priest from the cathedral came across the lake in a skiff for masses. After the establishment of St. Peter’s in Covington, the priest assigned there served both parishes. When the Benedictine Monks of St. Joseph Abbey moved from Gessen (near Rosaryville) to St. Benedict in the 1880’s, a priest from the abbey was sent to serve St. Francis Xavier. The church stood on the Southeast corner of Pine and St. Tammany Streets. In the early part of the twentieth century St. Catherine of Alexandria was established. It was constructed on the Northeast corner of Pine and St. Mary Streets and was intended to serve primarily, the white population of Madisonville. For many years there existed within the small community of Madisonville, two Catholic churches; St. Francis Xavier and St. Catherine. There was also a Catholic Chapel located about five miles outside of Madisonville and known as the Bedico Catholic Church (it is now the chapel at the Carmelite Monastery on River Road.)
All three churches were served by the faithful Benedictine Fathers of St. Joseph Abbey. One of these dedicated men of God would come to Madisonville each Sunday and celebrate the Eucharist at each church, one pastor serving three churches.
Shortly after Vatican II, this small community began to feel the impact of the Council. John Patrick Cody was Archbishop of New Orleans. Many of the people in the community realized that changes were coming. Most of the people were becoming aware that the Benedictine Priests were preparing to leave.
Change arrived in the form of the Reverend John J. Den Dulk, a diocesan priest assigned by the Archbishop as the new pastor. Fr. Den Dulk, a Dutchman, was a warm, gentle, loving and compassionate man of God. He made small changes, in the rectory and in the mass schedules. The first major change came when the Archbishop mandated that St. Francis Xavier Church be closed. Everyone had to attend mass at St. Catherine. While many people felt there should have only been one church all along, many others mourned the loss of their spiritual home. A second announcement from the Archbishop mandated that the two parishes were to be consolidated into one new parish. This announcement also mandated that the two old churches were to be torn down and a single new church built. Some parishioners were filled with joy, others with sadness. Some members left and found other churches, but the majority of the congregation accepted this union as God’s will and the Christian way.
There was much work to be done. The most important job was to begin the healing process. Secondly, the funds to build a new church had to be raised. Father Den Dulk was certain that the Lord would provide the means by which to build our new church, even though many of the parishioners kept reminding him that this was a poor parish. Father was right, the Lord did provide.
The people who had worked so hard and prayed together experienced a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment when St. Anselm Church was dedicated on July 18, 1965. Our Church is a shining example of what can happen when a small community of divided worshipers chose to be reconciled by obeying the Lord’s greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. The second most important commandment is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
The faith community of St. Anselm has had many ups and downs over the last forty years. There have been many hurts but more importantly great healing has taken place. We have experienced tremendous growth both in our parish and in the Madisonville area. All of these challenges have formed us more deeply as faithful Catholic Christians.
As we celebrate forty years of service to God and neighbor, we hope to begin construction of a new and larger church to better serve the growing needs or our parish and so that we may more worthily and beautifully worship our loving God.
St. Anselm said in one of his letters on governance of the Church, the barque (ship) of the Church may be swept by the waves, but it can never sink, because Christ is there. When the Church is in greatest need, Christ comes to its help by miracles, or by raising up saintly men to strengthen and purify it. It is the barque of Peter; when the storm threatens to sink it, the Lord awakens from His sleep, and commands the winds and waters into calm: Peace; be still! Notice, when you walk into your new church that it is shaped like a boat! In the architecture of this marvelous edifice is contained one of the ancient symbols of the Church, the barque of St. Peter which derives to us from St. Matthew's Gospel. The word nave which is the place where the faithful congregate is itself from the Latin word for ship (from its shape). The sanctuary of your church is the prow of the ship where the tabernacle is located, and in which is reposed the Christ under the form of bread who leads his Church forward. He is the pilot and the pastor is his assistant here on earth, the one who stands in his place to guide us to salvation in the Christ.
Perhaps you know that the first designs of the new church were like the homes that exist in many seaside or fishing towns on a square edifice with a central lanthorn or tower from which watchers could look to the sea for the ships coming home to port. This design gradually evolved in the hands of your architects, Waggonner & Ball and your late beloved pastor, Fr. Alan, into the shape of the barque or boat of St. Peter. Note how the roof line rises as it goes to the front/prow/sanctuary. The storms of the world cannot defeat the Church. Note also, in the ceiling the outline of the fish is the Greek: Æχθύς. It is transliterated into Latin as ichthus, (I/ota Ch/i Th/eta U/psilon S/igma), and is the ancient and classical Greek word for "fish." In English it refers to a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. It was used by early Christians as a secret symbol to denote a Christian meeting place and now known colloquially as the "Jesus fish." It means Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. The head of the fish is over the sanctuary. It would be hard to say that the architects, Waggonner & Ball, were consciously trying to put all this symbolism into the building, but they and Fr. Alan studied and looked at a lot of sources. Fr. Alan was, in particular, conscious of the need to find a way to express in a traditional, yet novel way, the church building as a home for the People of God in keeping with the stated intention of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Namely that elegance, simplicity and the opportunity for the people to celebrate Mass and participate fully, actively and consciously is a major consideration in erecting this church.
The architects and Fr. Alan were also careful in making the church a place of light which would lift the spirits of those present in the building. So you will note how light fills the church and gives to it some of the sumptuous beauty of large cathedral churches in Europe. The light fills the space reminiscent of the opening of Scripture at the creation when God said, Let there be light.
In the words of the psalm, He is the lamp that guides our feet unto the way of salvation. Light inside the building, particularly natural light that is not harsh or glaring, helps makes present to us the scope of God's providence. He cares for all the world, not just the people inside the church. He cares for all creation. By bringing into the church a natural light that lets us see the transit of the sun, we know of his creation beyond the confines of the building itself and can visually mark the passing of the hours, always kept in the prayer of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours. The statuary was all specially commissioned for St. Anselm Church. It is more traditional and positions the Church well as successor to the mission church of St. Francis Xavier first founded here in Madisonville on April 25, 1841 by the Benedictines from St. Joseph Abbey. The Stations of the Cross were designed with the idea that they be compatible with the painting of the Crucifixion by Dom Gregory de Wit, O.S.B. who did all the art work at St. Joseph Abbey in the 1940's and 1950's, thus connecting the church with the Benedictine tradition, of which St. Anselm is a primary model as Abbot of two separate Benedictine Abbeys before he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bronze bas-relief of St. Anselm at the entrance of the church was the idea of Fr. Alan and is dedicated to his honor. The statue of St. Stephen was commissioned in loving memory of Deacon Phillip Baham.
This new church is iconic in Madisonville and throughout the Archdiocese as a model of modern church architecture. It is through the work of your Pastor Fr. Frank, the Building Committee, the Architects and the Construction crews that the vision of Fr. Alan for this local Church of St. Anselm is a reality and will be a unifying force for the Catholic family in this area for a long time. As you pray and meditate on our Catholic heritage, consider this structure. The barque of St. Peter, the Church, cannot fail with the Mystical Body, Christ, the head, and the members, the body, who usher into reality the reign of God here in Madisonville.
Deacon Ronald J. Guidry, Liturgical Consultant
Blessing and Dedication
St. Anselm Catholic Church
His Excellency Alfred Clifton Hughes, S.T.D.
Archbishop of New Orleans
August 16th, 2009
Rev. Msgr. Frank J. Giroir, Pastor
Rev. Hoang M. Tuong, Parochial Vicar
ST. ANSELM; BISHOP, CONFESSOR & DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH!
St. Anselm was a native of Aosta (Italy) and a monk in the famous
Benedictan Abbey of BEC in Normandy. St. Anselm became the
Abbot of the famous monastery and later on became
Archbishop of Canterbury. He endeavored to develop the
science of God by a rational method which cleared the way for
scholastic theologians. One of his favored statements was: “I do
not try to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to
understand!” His resistance to the unjust measures of King William
Rufus drew upon him the anger of the monarch, but Pope Urban
II called him “A Hero for doctrine and virtue.” Like a courageous
pastor, he defended, in season and out of season, against the
ambitious tyranny of the King of England, the sacred liberty of the
Church which Jesus had bought for His flock with His blood! He
died at the age of 73 in April, 1109. The church celebrates his
feast day: April 21st.
PRAYER: O God, Who gave Blessed Anselm to Your people as a
minister of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech You, that we who
have had him for our teacher on earth, may be worthy to have
him for our advocate in heaven. Amen