By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

Unusually violent spring thunderstorms have pushed water into homes and even some churches in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, as well as rekindling memories of the August 2016 flooding.
But as many residents gazed up to the sky hoping to find clearing skies, eyes in the northwest corner of the diocese were focused on the water level in the Morganza Spillway, knowing that an entire crop could be washed away with the opening of the spillway’s flood gates. Confronted with the unknown, even as seepage from the river saturated lawns to the point where lawn mowers are unable to navigate the soaked grass, residents have turned to their Catholic faith for relief, understanding prayer is far more powerful than any sandbag.  

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Residents in the area of the Morganza Spillway have turned to their faith and their Catholic roots to pray their farmlands will not flood if the spillway were to be opened. Some residents recently gathered for a prayer service, led by Father Brent Maher, above, at St. Vincent de Paul Chapel in Innis.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

“This is when you really become a Catholic,” said George Lecour, sitting in St. Vincent de Paul Chapel in Innis after a recent Sunday morning Mass. “You pray. You have to resolve yourself of all of the work you have done, everything you depend on could be taken away from you if they open the gates.”  

“Thank God you have faith,” added Lecour, who has already lost 3,000 acres of bean and cotton crops to the floodwaters and another 3,000 could be threatened. “You have to remember the real things in life, what’s life all about?”  

Mike Dunham, who has already lost more than 300 acres of farmland, says “there really is nothing else to do” but to pray.  

“You still have your life,” he said.  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled and postponed the opening of the spillway, which has only been opened twice in its history, three times in the past month. In early June, the Corps announced it was postponing the opening indefinitely but with the caveat that gates could still be opened at a later date.  

If that scenario plays out, up to 25,000 acres of farmland that are in the floodway would be flooded but houses spared.  

“You don’t pray for it not to flood, you pray to survive, to accept it and move on,” Lecour said.  

Thousands of acres sitting in the flood plain between the Mississippi River and the flood gates have already been lost, including 145 acres still owned by St. Ann Church in Morganza. That land is the site of the original church, Our Lady of Sorrows, which was forced to relocate to its current location when the spillway was constructed in 1927.  

Lecour compared the loss of a crop, whether through a flood, hurricane or even drought, to a death.  

“We started the first of the year preparing the fields, you work it, you plant it, you sow the seeds, you fertilize the seeds,” he said. “As farmers, we know it’s out of our control, that all you planted, all you depend on, you wake up one day and it’s taken away from you.”  

“In the blink of an eye or the opening of a gate,” Dunham quickly added. “And some people stand to lose more than others but it hurts everybody.”  

Water in the Morganza area has been above flood stage since November, setting a record for duration. And that was well before the annual spring surge, when the snow melting from the north flows south toward the Gulf of Mexico. 

By January, water was “bleeding,” as Lecour put it, into people’s lawns.  

“It has never quit seeping,” he added, saying burials have been temporarily suspended in a nearby cemetery because of the high water.  

“Even though we lost a crop, we are going to go home and our houses are going to stay dry because the same flood plain system that will (potentially) take our crops will save our house,” Lecour said.  

The rising water has already doled out an economic impact in Pointe Coupee Civil Parish, affecting restaurants, gas stations and even church collections. People who have hunting and fishing camps in the area have been unable to get to them since this past fall.  

“We’ve been affected even without the spillway opening,” said Father Brent Maher, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul and St. Ann Church. “We have a few hundred camps (in the area) and folks just can’t come. So many people who are usually here with us, regulars, we have not seen since last year.”  

A St. Vincent chapel that is normally filled to near capacity during June was about one-third full on a mid-May Sunday morning.  

“Some folks would have been out there hunting, fishing, camping,’ Father Maher said.  

Despite the impact, and even the ever present threat of the flood gates opened, Father Maher has remained encouraged by the faith of his parishioners. He recently led an inspirational prayer service, that included the Litany of the Saints, following a Sunday Mass.  

“It humbles you,” Father Maher said. “It makes you realize the Lord is in charge. We see it in any kind of place where church was there when times get rough. That’s when we start to see people hit their knees a lot more easily and stay just a little bit longer.”  

Lecour said faith is what allows one to go through life, trusting in the belief that no matter the circumstances, everything will be alright. 

“You don’t want it, you don’t like it, but you have to accept it,” he said. “There is no need to get angry, there is no need to get bitter.  

“It’s up to the good man.”