Heart of Louisiana: St. Ann
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A small wooden church near the end of the Mississippi River at Empire has earned the nickname of ‘The Church That Won’t Die.’
The lower Mississippi River landscape at Empire has been battered by hurricanes, but as homes and businesses have disappeared, you still see the tall outriggers of shrimp boats and the steeple of Saint Ann Church. The church just turned 100 years old.
“They needed their own church. And, actually my grandmother lived right next to the church,” said Mitch Jurisich, a parishioner of St. Ann.
Like many of the original settlers of lower Plaquemines Parish, Jurisich’s ancestors came from Croatia. They were oyster fishermen. And when the community wanted a catholic church, they turned to a local boat builder.
“Built out of some very strong thick cypress boards that they planed themselves, they made their own boards and everything. So he built the church. It was built by a boat builder,” said Jurisich.
And residents discovered just how sturdy this church was when Hurricane Betsy pounded the area in 1965.
“Church just floated off it’s foundation and twisted a little bit till it bumped into my grandmother’s little sandwich shop,” said Jurisich.
Four years later, it was Hurricane Camille.
“The same path, the same twist, the same picked the church back up, set it on blocks and let’s have mass,” said Jurisich.
The most devastating blow came in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina.
“That was the only building left on its original piece of property,” said Jurisich.
“The community fought to keep their church open. Two catholic churches, farther south were destroyed,” added Jurisich.
St. Ann parishioner Barbara Oustalet said, “Some people say if you flipped the church, she would float because the attic of this church is like the hull of a boat.”
Oustalet started organizing St. Ann’s centennial celebration a year earlier, and while they’re planning for the big anniversary, they get hit by another hurricane.
“Exactly. And the lady survived,” said Oustalet.
The church only seats 120 people for its anniversary, but for mass, more than 400 showed up.
The church has survived now four major hurricanes. When asked if there a risk of the church building outlasting church community that’s here, Oustalet said, “Absolutely.”
“You know, look around outside. There used to be houses in this neighborhood and they’re gone,” said Oustalet.
“You know, with as long as this church is here, there’s gonna be a piece of a community here with this church. I could promise you,” said Jurisich.
For 100 years, Saint Ann Church has been an anchor for people who have struggled to hold on to their way of life.
“This church is a survivor. She is a miracle,” said Oustalet.
To learn more about historic St. Ann Church, click here.
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