By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

The bright, hot summer sun shone like a spotlight on the mom-and-pop neighborhood store Owens Grocery and Market on Balis Street as a large crowd of people gathered to express their gratitude to the store that helped so many of them through the most difficult times. Then broke out a neighborhood party filled with games, food, face painting and a giveaway of 10 bikes to lucky registered participants. 

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Ahmad Varice pulls the “Maui Miss” bike ridden by his sister, Amir, who was the winner of one of 10 bikes given away at a block party on Balis Street hosted by St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge.  Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The event was sponsored by St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, and its St. Vincent de Paul Conference and Knights of Columbus, in collaboration with Owens Grocery, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’ and District Attorney’s Offices, the Baton Rouge Police Department, House of God Ministry and New Gideon Baptist Church.  

St. Aloysius has a history with Owens and the Balis Street community that goes back several years, beginning with the Daughters of Jesus, who served St. Aloysius from 1957 – 2002. The mom-and-pop neighborhood store and St. Aloysius worked together to serve the people of the community.  

Sister Josephine particularly was a well-known face in the community.  

“Sister Josephine was the one we contacted for people’s needs, such as appliances, food, help with the utilities or rent,” said Cynthia Owens Green, whose parents David Owens Sr. and Emma Johnson Owens, established the store in 1938. Green currently runs the store with the help of her husband and brother.  

“Sister Josephine was always stepping in. I would call her and she would make it happen,” Green said.  

She said when Sister Josephine she would visit the neighborhood she would spend time with her child “who was raised in the store.” And when the child passed away, Sister Josephine came and provided comfort and healing for the family.  

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Anna Plauche, a member of St. Aloysius Church and student at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, paints Keandre Spruell’s face. 

 

“We knew we could count on her for anything and a prayer,” said Green. “She was a dedicated nun and friend.” 

Green recalled, “She (Sister Josephine) was a jokester. We could laugh about a lot of things.  

“She was a small-framed women with a big accent. She was a petite woman, but with a stern point (when how things should be done).”  

But she had a warm heart, and Green’s heart was broken when Sister Josephine and the sisters moved back to Spain.  

“She and my mother worked hand-in-hand. (My mom) should have been a nun,” chuckled Green.  

Green and her family were recognized for their service to the community. For example, on the first and second Saturdays, those who have nothing to eat can stop by and get a hot meal. But she said the store is ready to help any time.  

“We were kind of the headquarters,” mused Green, who said the people in need would often ask, “Can you call St. Aloysius?  

“St. Aloysius plays a big part in our lives. They’re like nourishment. They are loving and giving.”  

Father Eddie Martin, parochial Vicar at St. Aloysius, said, “It was so wonderful to meet Mrs. Green, somebody who’s lived such a saintly life. She’s such an inspiration and it’s great to honor something that’s positive – a bloom of love in the middle of the desert.  

“You hear about the bad all the time. It was great to stop and take time and acknowledge the good. And the regular interaction with the neighbors ­- you never know how a few minutes, a smile or a few words might impact someone’s opinion down the road about a whole group of people.”  

Green said of the event, “I thought the street party of a humbling experience, because so many people came out. This is the first time I’ve been able to do it on my property. For them to show love for me and the people of St. Aloysius was a joyous occasion. It brought me to tears. To see to many people celebrating and putting aside our differences.  

People came out who normally wouldn’t. There were people I hadn’t seen in years. We sat down, ate, played and danced together and had harmony.”  

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Braylen Griffin jumps off a trampoline that was part of the fun activities provided for kids at a Balis Street Block party.