August 14, 2002 - "Smallest Church In The World"

The smallest church in the world is just down the River Road from Baton Rouge. They celebrate formal mass only once a year, on the Feast of the Assumption. That's tomorrow. As they prepare for the festive occasion, we meet the selfless couple dedicated to the year-round upkeep of the tiny church in Bayou Goula.

Once a year on August 15th, A.J. Roppolo rings the bell at the Chapel of the Madonna to summon the worshipers to mass. It's a very special day at the smallest church in the world.

According to A.J., "It was made for when the Blessed Virgin ascended into heaven. That's why the chapel was built in her honor, and that's when they celebrate the mass."

The Feast of the Assumption has been celebrated here for 99 years. The Chapel of the Madonna goes back to the turn of the century, when the oldest son of sugar farmer Anthony Gullo was taken sick. Gullo prayed to the Virgin Mary, said if his son was healed, the Italian farmer would build a shrine.

The Gullo family moved away about 50 years ago, but local folks have maintained the church. For the last 12 years the loving hands and hearts of A.J. and Mitzie Roppolo have led the effort.

"I just hope the Blessed Mother and God are looking at me when I'm doing it," says A.J. "I'm doing it for Her and Him."

Mitzie adds, "It's just the satisfaction of knowing that I'm doing something for Her and for Her son."

When the bell rings, worshipers will give thanks to the Blessed Mother, and maybe in a smaller way for A.J. and Mitzie Roppolo.

The Chapel of the Madonna is on River Road about four miles north of Nottoway. Tomorrow's mass starts at 9 a.m.