The Catholic Commentator 

As an unusually warm November sun baked worshippers during an outdoor Mass in Port Vincent, Jamie Manotas’ thoughts drifted to a different time, when the temperatures were lower but the memories warm. 

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More than 50 people attended the outdoor Mass celebrated by Father Palermo. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

She remembered being in St. William Church in Port Vincent during the final Advent the church would be open. Her daughter, who was five at the time, sang “Silent Night” during Mass. 

“That was special,” Manotas recalled, adding that her daughter was also baptized in the church that closed in 2006. 

Manotas was one of more than 50 people who recently braved near summer-like conditions to attend the dedication of the St. Vincent Ferrer Chapel, which sits on the former St. William site. St. William, which was built in 1956, was torn down in 2012, but Father Jason Palermo, pastor of St. Joseph Church in nearby French Settlement and St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Maurepas, said he was committed to building a new chapel at the site. 

The chapel sits in the center of St. William Cemetery, and although the small gothic structure does not have an altar and Mass will not be celebrated there, Father Palermo said the facility will host the rite of committal. 

“It was important to build a new chapel because this is where the Catholic Church in Livingston Parish has its roots,” Father Palermo said during the week following the ceremony. “We committed to (St. William parishioners) when (announcing the old church would be torn down) there would be a chapel there. 

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Father Palermo blessed the outside of the chapel, which are actually built of bricks salvaged from the old St. William Church before it was torn down in 2012.

 

“It did not feel right to tear down St. William without building a chapel there. That was part of the promise.” 

The Catholic Church’s roots in tiny Port Vincent, which throughout much of its history has been a hunting and fishing community, date to 1839 when Father Thadeus Amat CM became the first priest to minister in the area. 

Three different churches have stood on the land originally donated by Vincent Scivicque, who was an Italian merchant and generally regarded as the founder of Port Vincent. Scivicque had built a small chapel on the site in honor of St. Vincent for his mother who was planning to move from Italy but died before coming to the country. 

In February 1837 Scivicque donated the land and the chapel to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the mission of St. Vincent. On Aug. 20, 1839 Father Amat, authorized by Bishop Antoine Blanc, blessed the chapel. 

A second church was built in the early 1900s and renamed St. Agnes, which remained until St. William was constructed. 

After St. William closed, the building was leased to a Baptist church for several years before that congregation relocated. St. William was sitting idle and in danger of becoming an eyesore, which is what Father Palermo wanted to avoid. 

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Father Jason Palermo blessed the new St. Vincent Ferrer Chapel in Port Vincent on Nov. 5. Assisting Father Palermo, who is the pastor at nearby St. Joseph Church in French Settlement and St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Maurepas, is Deacon James Little. Above the doorway is a stunning stained glass window created by Steve Wilson that tells the story of Port Vincent. 

 

“It was time,” he said of the building coming down, which was completed by parish volunteers. 

The new 35-foot by 90-foot structure has preserved much of St. William’s past while telling the history of Port Vincent. The bricks, the two pews in the chapel and the stations of the cross are all from St. William. 

A stunning stained glass structure that details the history of Port Vincent through precise and captivating symbolism crafted by Stephen Wilson contains part of the old stained glass from St. William. And a cross hanging in the chapel was built from wood salvaged from the old church. 

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Parishioners showed their delight as they entered the chapel following the outdoor Mass. 

 

“We wanted to have a Catholic presence in Port Vincent,” said Father Palermo, who added the initial decision to tear down St. William was not particularly popular. “It does have a place in (parishioners’) hearts, I can understand that.” 

“It’s a beautiful place for people to come and pray,” he added. “It’s kind of like a crown jewel in the middle of the cemetery.” 

Although the chapel is always locked, families have been provided keys for accessibility at any time, which, according to Father Palermo, is the chapel’s mission. 

He told parishioners during his homily that the chapel is theirs, and it is their responsibility to take care of it and pass it on. 

“Use it prayerfully,” he said. “Come and pray and know that God is here. Don’t be so busy in your life that you don’t feel you have the time to come and pray.” 

Later, while cooling off in some welcome shade, Jinx Berthelot could only smile, looking back at the chapel. St. William will always hold a special place in her heart, recalling that much of her was centered around the church, including getting married there in 1967. 

“It has a special memory,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to coming here.” 

Hers was a sentiment shared by many.

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The chapel features two pews that were also salvaged from St. William Chapel, along with a stained glass window of the Resurrected Christ and statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Vincent Ferrer. 

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The statue, which was donated to the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1839, was originally at St. Vincent Ferrer Church. Vincent Scivicque, who is generally regarded as the founder of Port Vincent, built the original chapel before donating the land where St. William Cemetery sits to the archdiocese.  

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The Stations of the Cross are also salvaged from St. William Chapel.