By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Stuffed crabs were strategically placed, alongside boiled crawfish and snuggling up to boiled shrimp.  

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The altar featured boiled seafood of many types, as well as baked breads and a number of traditional Cajun casseroles and desserts. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

The aroma of freshly cooked seafood permeated the parish hall at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Pierre Part, not unusual in a community where fishing is a significant economic driver and its most popular pastime.  

But what was unusual on this May 4 afternoon, a day when rain had dampened the area but certainly not the enthusiasm of parishioners, was seafood being the centerpiece of a St. Joseph altar. 

Forget the lava beans and pasta. This one-of-a-kind altar featured Cajun delicacies of all types, from crawfish stew to pecan pie, adorned by seafood products and condiments of all types. 

While others admired the altar, Cathy Setton Breaux was beaming with pride. For it was her vision and hard work along with that of her “co-pilot” Wanda Oufnac and an army of 30 volunteers who made the Cajun St. Joseph altar come to life in an area where Cajun roots run deep in the fertile soil.  

“I had a vision and it totally met my expectations,” said Breaux, still emotional several days after the altar had been taken down. “This is what I wanted.”  

She said the idea of a Cajun St. Joseph Altar has been in her heart for quite some time. The parish had not had an altar for more than 30 years ago, when Breaux was a volunteer assisting in the setup.  

The idea of reviving an altar had been gnawing at Breaux, but with a twist. Rather than the traditional Italian flare, she wanted an altar that would showcase the area’s Cajun heritage.  

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This unique statue of Jesus already came with a small net. But organizers gave the Lord an even bigger net to better portray him as a “fisher of men.”  

 

And it would be held close to May 1, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, the parish’s patron saint.  

“We had discussed the altar for several years and nothing evolved from it,” said pastor Father Al Davidson. “It wasn’t something I wanted to pressure them into doing..”  

“When (Breaux) came (about doing the altar for this year) I was excited. I tried to hold back just to see if it would evolve,” he added.  

Encouraged by the enthusiasm of Father Davidson, Breaux, a retired florist, was off and running, initially securing the façade of a Cajun cabin that had been used as a backdrop in a local theatre production.  

“I started thinking of everything Cajun,” she said, including borrowing crab traps and crawfish traps to adjourn the cabin. 

“(Fishing) was a big industry and that culture still goes on today,” Breaux said. “There are no more pirogues, (boats) just a little bit more modernized.”  

Along with the tantalizing array of crustaceans cooked in a variety of ways – Breaux admitted that she knew “exactly” who would contribute what and that no one turned her down – the altar featured a number of statues of the Holy Family. One statue of Jesus in a skiff was even modified to have him holding a net as a symbol of “fisher of men.”  

Make no mistake, though, the highlight was the food, which included approximately 40 pounds of boiled crawfish, 10 pounds of boiled shrimp, four dozen stuffed crabs and a dizzying selection of Cajun desserts.  

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 Mary was at the head of the altar, which is pictured in the background.

 

“I was totally amazed and pleasantly surprised,” Father Davidson said. “It was a community effort and that was the true beauty of it.”  

Following the vigil Mass, parishioners were served a main meal of crawfish stew and potato salad, with some sampling food from the altar. All of the leftovers were donated to St. Vincent de Paul Society and area nursing homes.  

“People were amazed and already talking about what they want to contribute next year,” Breaux said. “My goal was to bring the community together like we used to, get this community working on something together.” 

Mission accomplished. 

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The Holy Family stands above cooking ingredients for crab and crawfish, part of the many items on the one-of-a-king Cajun St. Joseph altar on May 4 at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Pierre Part.

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Freshly boiled crawfish, crabs and Louisiana seasonings helped round out the decorations.