Several families made their way across N. Jefferson Ave. Sunday, after tugging lightly on the doors to the Holy Family sanctuary and noticing a sign explaining that Mass would take place
across the street inside Jubilee Hall.
For Holy Family parishioners, 2014 is the year of Jubilee Hall.
The Port Allen church has begun renovations on their main sanctuary, a project church administration has been looking forward to for years. The process, according to Holy Family Father David Allen, will take up to a year to complete.
While renovations are made to the sanctuary, the church’s Masses will take place across the street in Jubilee Hall, a quaint, old Baptist church purchased by Holy Family years ago.
“Jubilee Hall is formerly, for many decades, a Baptist church… We’re moving into it, we bought it 12 years ago and have used it for other functions, but now it’ll become our sanctuary,” said Fr. Allen as he stood in Jubilee Hall Thursday afternoon, looking around at the space and the work that needed to be completed before their first Mass in the building on Saturday. “This will become our worship space for the next year.”
This week, contractors began the complete renovation of Holy Family’s sanctuary – an estimated 300-day project that will transform nearly everything, from the floors to the ceilings, the walls to the lighting and sound system.
The project is expected to cost around $1.5 million, most of which was raised by parishioners over the past few years.
In November 2012, Fr. Allen made good on a bet with his congregation, shaving his head after the church, collectively, had raised $1 million toward to renovation project.
He said that though the parishioners did, in fact, raise much of the money, the church will still borrow some to get the project completed.
“We’re going to borrow some money from the Diocese in Baton Rouge. It’ll be an internal debt, not a public debt with the banks,” he said. “We borrow from the Diocese in Baton Rouge and we pay them back at a lower rate than it would cost on the open market.”
Fr. Allen said that though there are plenty of unknown factors when moving from the more-than-600 capacity sanctuary to the just-over-200 capacity former Baptist church to hold Mass, he is excited about the project and sees an excitement in parishioners as well.
“It’s a little frightening, but it’s also inspiring. The energy I see in the community the last few weeks as we are getting so close; they are thankful that finally their commitment, time, talent and treasure is going to see work being done,” he said.
Beckey LeBlanc, Holy Family’s custodian, said that she is ecstatic that the sanctuary is finally being refurbished and said she believes other parishioners understand that some of the comforts of the larger space will be sacrificed for a short time, but said she doesn’t believe it will be much of an issue most weeks.
“We worked really hard toward this goal and we’re working even harder the last two weeks to move things from the church. I know it’s going to be somewhat of an inconvenience for the parishioners, but we’re going to be really cozy here and hopefully it’ll bring our community together and we can worship in this fine little home and spruce up the new one,” LeBlanc said Thursday afternoon after setting and lining up chairs across the back of the stage. “It’s a long time coming.”
Most of the seating inside Jubilee Hall is metal folding chairs, while cushioned chairs line the left and right side of the stage.
“For the most part we will be close knit. I told them we’re going to borrow from the Baptist heritage that was here,” Fr. Allen said. “You can’t have progress without sacrifice. There was no resurrection to glory for Jesus without passion. We’re going to be at a little bit of cross-bearing and passion over the next 11-12 months but then we’ll celebrate the glory of returning to our main church.”
LeBlanc said that she remembers when the Holy Family Church was being built and Mass was being held in the cafeteria, adding that have a building like Jubilee Hall is a blessing.
“(Mass in the cafeteria every week) was certainly an inconvenience because you have to put up the alter, take it down, put it up, take it down… Now we don’t have to do that here,” she said. “It makes me feel good, because I have to tell you, I’ve been working very hard for quite some time, packing and hauling and everything – yesterday when it finally came together, I said ‘this looks really good.’”
Fr. Allen agreed with LeBlanc’s sentiments, saying that most that had seen the building before the first weekend Masses were held commented on how beautiful it was.
“Those that have come during the week have been truly surprised that the space is reverent and it functions well and they feel a real openness because it has all these windows,” he said. “I just know that Holy Family, as several other communities, are critical to the life of the west side, and particularly Port Allen. And so I’m very thankful to the Catholic and non-Catholic community that supported it.
“We just hope that this will be just a re-invigorating of Port Allen for everybody across the lines.”