FRIENDS OF ST. MARY'S CHAPEL
Friends of St. Mary's Chapel is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation started by Carmel Andermann Veron, Mike Schexnayder, Spencer Chauvin, and Fr. Vincent Dufresne, with the sole purpose of raising funds for the preservation of St. Mary's Chapel in Union, St. James Parish, Louisiana. The funds will be used solely to preserve and maintain the physical Chapel building.
Our mission is to grow the Corporation through volunteers and fundraising in order to revitalize and preserve St. Mary's Chapel and her heritage as a historical, architectural, and spiritual asset to provide a Catholic-based 'special-event-only' venue for the surrounding communities.
Hammer Beam/Gothic Arches
Choir Loft & Nave
Original Communion Rail
Choir Loft & Nave
PHOTO GALLERY Click Picture Above For Photo Gallery
Above is a clipping from the 1858 Persac Map of the MS River - The Church picture above represents the 1st St. Mary's Chapel built in 1849 near the Sunshine Bridge
Photo Credit - Library of Congress
Photo taken in late 1940's - Courtesy of St. Michael's Catholic Church
L'Histoire de La Chapelle de Sainte Marie du Fleuve
St. Mary on the River was the name of this small Chapel long before it was referred to in its current English name, St. Mary's. Mass in Union was first celebrated in William Conway’s house on the St. Mary Plantation, in the old house where Harry Stein, Sr. used to live.
Later, the first Saint Mary’s was built by Mr. Antione Andermann, and completed on October 2, 1849 under the direction of Fr Jean F. Abbadie, S.J. on the upriver corner of the Ancient Domain Plantation once owned by the Peytavins and previously by Aristide Landry and slightly downriver from what used to be called the Narcisse Landry Jr.'s "Tippecanoe Plantation". This Chapel is indicated on the 1858 “Persac” Map of the riparian lands of Louisiana.
Louis Chauvin II started the current 1875 St. Mary’s Chapel building in his late 30’s in June of 1868 with his partner and Uncle Eugene Chauvin under the direction of Fr. H. Bellanger, S.M. Eugene died 8-1/2 years later, in 1875 and never lived to see St. Mary’s completed. The original (shotgun) rectory from the first (1849) Chapel was relocated to the rear of the new (1875) Chapel upon opening. Not long after, the much larger residence of Eugene Chauvin, an average sized French Colonial cottage, located on the immediate down river side of the Chapel, along with the property of roughly 18 acres, was then transferred to the Church. The older shotgun house rectory was rented out until it was torn down in 1952. Eugene's former residence functioned as the rectory until 1986. The rectory was then moved by Mr. Karl Nettles and still exists today in Port Vincent.
After Louis’s Uncle Eugene died, Louis II & Pierre Chauvin later joined together to form Chauvin Brothers Partnership. The original Chapel was completed in 1875 and only consisted of the front nave and steeple. Fr. O. Renaudier, S.M. blessed the Chapel late that winter. Louis II died in 1900 and plans had already been underway for the Chapel Expansion to meet the needs for this rapidly growing community. Pierre Chauvin finished the expansion of the two transepts (wings), sacristies, and both side altars between 1903-04 where immediately afterwards an elaborate and triumphant procession celebrated the completed Chapel by many of the contributors, both Laity & Clergy alike.
Nov. 29, 1945 Altar
This picture shows the elaborate carpets sewn together by individual pieces by the Altar Society and how magnificent the altar was prior to the Vatican II changes. The top spires were removed to push the alter back to make room for the front facing altar and sanctuary lamp moved from the center to the side.
Photo Credit - Cecile Chauvin
Collapse of Steeple 1965
Hurricane Betsy struck in 1965. The locals recall attending 6 AM Friday mass the morning after the storm passed - the steeple had already fallen.
Photo Credit - Henry Chauvin
Lynn & Joan Bergeron's beautiful wedding on January 7, 1967.
Photo Credit - Lynn Bergeron
The Chapel has been through many renovations and upgrades. The original cypress shingle roof was overlayed with a slate roof in 1926. The 1st bell of silver was donated by Slyvain Cantrelle and was salvaged from the original St. James Church across the river. It was replaced with the current bell seen on site today in 1923 and placed up high in the belfry of the steeple. Later, Pierre Chauvin's son, Tee-Pierre (founder of Blue Runner canning factory) rolled the Chapel some 250' after the flood of 1927 when the levee was moved. Electricity came to Union in 1935. Father C. Chauve personally added the roof coverings over the transept doors and the front entrance along with the aluminum awnings to allow the windows to be opened in the rain prior to air-conditioning. He also added a fully equipped and lit baseball field. The old original leaded glass was lost (sold) in the process. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 destroyed the original gothic steeple, bringing it to the ground. The current steeple seen today was designed and constructed approximately in 1966. Air Conditioning was added in 1972. In 1984, under the supervision of Henry Chauvin, Architect, Louis II great grandson, the exterior sills had rotted and were replaced with treated sills and improved ventilation was provided through means of lattice work. Vinyl siding was also added to preserve the original siding .
The Chapel was closed in 1998 and sits in an economically-disadvantaged area. However, these restoration efforts are showing promise of bringing together a sense of community heritage in the descendants of the original Parishioners. Friends of St. Mary's Chapel was formed to forge and organize that unity. Plans are underway to bring back family members of the former community through fairs, concerts, gatherings, and religious programs in an effort to resurrect what was the original binding source of the families of that former community.
The roof is currently leaking in numerous places and needs a complete replacement along with the lightning protection system. The facilities like the air conditioning and electrical systems needs upgrading. The window sashes need repair and new glass & glazing added. The front doors have rotted and need replacing. Plans include removing the existing damaged carpet and sanding/finishing the floors to their original glory. There's even talk of bringing back the original and unique gothic steeple, which is a "one of a kind", not found anywhere else in the world. The current steeple was in danger of falling again in the 1980's and was strengthened by closing it in by means of internal bracing.
Through the donations of charitable contributors, Friends of St. Mary's will ensure that St. Mary's Chapel will survive and live on to be a beacon of faith and hope for all to appreciate and worship in.
The building was placed on the (LTHP) Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation's Most Endangered List for 2021.
This plaque was designed by Fr. Meluita and elaborates on the triumphant procession that took place while transferring the statues & patrimony from the 1st St. Mary's Chapel, to the 2nd Chapel of 1875. The procession took place in 1904 to celebrate the expansion of the transepts and sacristies.
Photo Credit - Brian Davis
Main & Side Altars
Hand built personally by Pierre Chauvin & completed in 1904, these altars prominently display St. Joseph on the right, & the Blessed Virgin Mary on the left.
Photo Credit: Josh Box
This window was moved from the rear of the Chapel and placed in the front to replace the Gothic Rose window. A tornado almost destroyed her in 1993 & she was restored to 90% by Attenhofer & Co.
Photo Credit - Spencer Chauvin