By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

Perched in the tiny hamlet of St. Amant, a meandering bayou lapping at its doorstep, the Full of Grace Café, located on the Holy Rosary Church campus, is rapidly gaining international acclaim.  

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Robin Anderson, front, prepares jambalaya to be served later in the evening at the Full of Grace Café at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant. Also preparing the meal for the needy in the area are Curtis Marchant, rear left, and Cindy Richard.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

The unique café, which opened at the beginning of Advent in 2018, is a sanctuary of sustenance for the less privileged and includes a coffee house, food bank, dining room, a place to receive legal advice, a hair salon and if necessary even take a shower. Best of all, the services come free of charge.  

And only steps away is the quite spacious and well-stocked gift shop, where the revenue is generated so that café services will remain free.  

In recognition of his role in developing and launching the café, Holy Rosary pastor Father Josh Johnson was recently chosen as one of 12 Catholics worldwide by the Christian website Aleteia who will restore faith in humanity.  

Joining Father Johnson are a lineup of medical professionals and priests, hailing from such places as India, the Sudan and Africa.  

“I give all of the credit to the people in the parish,” Father Johnson said. “It’s not about me; it’s the whole team we have here that is bearing all of this great fruit.”  

Saying he thought “it was cool when he saw the other people on the list,” Father Johnson was initially shocked and “not something I expected. What we are doing here in St. Amant, other people around the world are taking notice.  

“In a day and age where many parishes are closing, this parish is thriving because of the unique ministry we have at the Full of Grace Café.”  

Father Johnson, who has served as pastor since 2017, said the idea was borne out of the catastrophic flood of 2016 when many Holy Rosary parishioners lost their homes.  

Residents were able to recover through the assistance of agencies and people throughout the area, and they expressed to Father Johnson a desire to help others in the same way.  

So he surveyed the campus and noticed the flood-damaged rectory and office was not in use. It was then, in early 2018, the vision was becoming focused.  

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The coffee shop at the Full of Grace Café at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant is a gathering place where people can not only enjoy a free cup of java but also receive, at no charge, a haircut, legal advice, advice on writing resumes and finding a job and even take a shower if needed.

 

One of the first moves was to relocate the food bank from the rear of the campus to the front.  

“I hated that the food bank was in the back of the campus,” Father Johnson said. “To me, number one is worship of God and number two is service to God.  

“So I wanted to put the poor in the front.”  

He also teetered with the idea of adding a coffee shop in the space. But it was also during this process several parishioners, because of their love of cooking, approached Father Johnson about establishing a soup kitchen. He agreed, with the caveat that it be called a dining room.  

Even more parishioners began to approach Father Johnson to offer their own gifts and talents, including Curtis Marchand, a local hair stylist who has been in business for more than four decades, proposed offering free haircuts once a week.  

“The people I meet cutting hair in the salon here, when they leave with a real haircut, it makes them feel so much better,” said Marchand, who is at the café on Tuesdays. “But I get the reward, I am the one who is happiest. The great thing is to know we are doing it without wanting or getting anything in return. We receive so much.”  

As word spread, more parishioners approached Father Johnson offering their own gifts, including staffing the café, establishing a diaper bank and having a nurse visit weekly to offer medical
 consultation, for which the person is charged a small fee.  

“Yes (the café) was the fruit of my prayer, but it’s the body of Christ at Holy Rosary who are sustaining it,” he said. “They are the ones who are there early in the morning, during the day, and we even have families serving the poor.”  

“All we have to do is say yes and give God the space,” Father Johnson added. “God has done something radical and turned it into something we could have never imagined. The fruit has been supernatural.”  

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, up to 300 people, including some of the neediest in the area, drop in for a free meal. Also on Thursdays, volunteers deliver free meals to those who are homebound.  

On Tuesdays, a local human resource specialist offers advice on writing resumes, completing job applications and job hunting. Free mental counseling is also available. </span id=”23″>

Once a month, a Widow of Grace meal is presented. Father Johnson noted the dinner is “done in Ruth’s Chris (Steak House) style,” with a menu and volunteer servers dressed in white button shirts and black ties, all in an effort to make the diners feel special.  

“It’s phenomenal,” said parishioner Robin Anderson, as she prepared a pot of jambalaya to be served for dinner that night. “We all flooded, and we feel like we are giving back to the community that helped rebuild our homes. It’s very rewarding. I definitely feel like I’m living the Gospel message.”  

“You don’t want to be prideful but you take pride in the work we do here,” she said. “It’s been a blessing for me.”  

Father Johnson has received phone calls from other diocesan parishes as well as dioceses from around the country inquiring how something similar could be established. He also noted the café has given St. Amant a sense of community and has been a source of renewal and even evangelization.  

“Because of the presence of the café and the work we do, a lot of people who have left the church have come back, which has been beautiful,” Father Johnson said. “It’s been a beacon of light and a great bridge to draw people back to Jesus which was the point of it all.”  

A bridge now spanning international waters.