Sacred Hear celebrates  centennial 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

Tiny in stature, the Sacred Heart Chapel in Livingston is rich in history, officially reaching back 100 years but actually dating to the mid-1800s when Acadians first settled along the Amite River.


The Mission of the Sacred Heart was filled with people of various ages and walks of life during its 100th anniversary Mass Aug. 25. Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator  


Known as “La Cote Francaise,” the settlers, strong in their Catholic faith, began their new lives near what is known as French Settlement and Port Vincent, according to Roger Baudier, author of “History of The Catholic Church in Louisiana.”  

The first chapel in the area was dedicated on Aug. 20, 1839 along the banks of the Amite River near Port Vincent. But it would not be until 80 years later when the Sacred Heart chapel would be completed and dedicated.  

On Aug. 25, the mission of the Sacred Heart Chapel in Livingston celebrated it 100th anniversary of being part of that area’s faith community and family during a special Mass.  

“Sacred Heart is a warm, welcoming community,” said Father Frank Uter, pastor of Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart. “If anyone is a newcomer, they feel right at home.”  

“It’s a history that’s alive … it’s something ongoing,” Father Uter, also pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs and a historian in his own right, added. “You see the history alive in 2019 as they continue on the same traditions, same prayers, same faith.”  

Although a small congregation, many families have deep roots.  

Parishioners Ronnie Bencaz and Ray Burleigh share the work in keeping up with the church’s physical needs.  

Bencaz, who was born and raised three blocks from Sacred Heart, said his favorite memories were the Dominican Sisters who served as catechetical instructors.  

“The sisters were a lot fun,” said Bencaz. He said they had outdoors Halloween festivities that included apple games and during the night free-ranging cattle ate the apples.  

He also cut and stacked wood for the heater on cold days before Mass. He also remembered the eight-person telephone party lines, so “everyone knew your business.”  

“It’s a close-knit community, like it is now, just like a family reunion,” Bencaz said.  

Likewise, Burleigh described Sacred Heart at “a big happy family.” 


Father Frank Uter, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs and the Mission of the Sacred Heart in Livingston, welcomed people to Sacred Heart as the church celebrated its centennial anniversary at a Mass Aug. 25.  


“We’re always together, and that’s how the church got started,” said Burleigh.  

Livingston Parish began to blossom with the construction of the railroad, resulting in settlers moving in from the north, predominately Italians, Germans and Hungarians, moving south. By the 1890s, the lumber industry boomed and lumber mills and railroad towns sprang up throughout south Louisiana, resulting in the need for more churches.  

In 1917 the town of Livingston, which was owned by Garyville Land Company, an affiliate of Lyon Lumber Company, was founded.  

On Aug. 10, 1918 Father Ernest P. Miller, a missionary from the Diocese of Ghent in Belgium assigned to the church at French Settlement and the Livingston Parish missions, wrote to Archbishop John William Shaw of the Archdiocese of New Orleans requesting a chapel be built in Livingston. Father Miller wrote that local Catholics were willing to contribute toward the erection of the chapel and compensate the priest who would minister to them.  

Father Miller petitioned the Catholic Extension Society to donate $500 for a chapel and permission to purchase the property from the Lyon Lumber Company, which in 1918 agreed to sell three lots for one dollar.  

Construction began in 1918, after the conclusion of World War I, and was completed in August.  

There were approximately 100-130 Catholics at that time living in Livingston.  

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate were assigned to Livingston Parish and established themselves at St. Joseph Church in French Settlement and St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany.  

On Sept. 11, 1960, Immaculate Conception in Denham Springs became an established parish and the Sacred Heart chapel became a mission of Immaculate Conception.  

Despite being a small church, Sacred Heart looks confidently to the future as a strong, vibrant community of young and old, singles and families filling the church each Sunday. 

“There are a lot of (ministry) volunteers and they do it very well. They are always ready to welcome new people to a ministry,” Father Uter said.  

He said when Sacred Heart faces challenges, they “rise up to it.” 

Ten years ago, the church was remodeled and recently a new altar, lecturn and cantor stand were purchased.  

“It’s beautiful, it’s up-to-date,” said Father Uter.  

Additional property was purchased that can be used for religious education or a rectory as well as additional parking.  

One unique thing about the church is that it does not have a sound system, said Father Uter.  

“You speak loudly and clearly and it just works fine,” he said, adding it adds to the atmosphere of intimacy.  

“You feel like you are talking to people and you see their faces responding,” said Father Uter. 

He said the people today are the continuing chapter of the chapel’s history.  

Burleigh and Bencaz noted the generosity of its parishioners, especially Rita “Tita” Pearl Parent Contine who was the “matriarch” of Sacred Heart and a house next to the church that was purchased bears the name “Tita House.” Her father rang the bell for Mass and funerals for many years and her mother played the piano.  

Contine’s brother, Larry Parent, 89, who also rang the bell, shares intertwining stories of the history of church and the town.  

“The church and town have been part of me for all my life,” said Parent. “There’s a kind of unity with everyone; they all support each other pretty good and I they are my family.”  


Tiny in stature, the Mission of the Sacred Heart has a rich history.