YOUNGSVILLE — During Mass last weekend at St. Anne Catholic Church, the Rev. Jason Mouton announced plans to build a new church and demolish the old structure, which church officials say is too small for a growing congregation and too damaged by time and the elements to repair.
Not every Catholic who attends church in Youngsville — one of Louisiana’s fastest-growing cities — has greeted the news warmly.
“If there are more Catholics moving to Youngsville who need a new church, go build one” elsewhere, said Ben Burley, 58, whose family line in Youngsville goes back to his great-great-grandfather, Desire Roy.
“Go build it in Sugar Mill Pond. Build it anywhere you want to. I don’t care,” Burley said last week.
Burley’s opposition is shared by other St. Anne members, most of them older Catholics with deep connections to St. Anne Catholic Church who were baptized in the church, got married in the church, held funerals in the church. Those opposed to demolition question the conclusion that the building is past the point of repair economically.
Wynard Boutte, Mouton’s assistant, said the new church would cost $8 million or more and would take two years to build.
In August, the 12-member St. Anne Advisory Pastoral Council unanimously approved going forward with the first stages of the project, though many more meetings and plenty more approvals will be needed along with raising the millions of needed dollars. So far, Gossen Architects has drawn a layout of a larger church that shows a structure with almost 19,000 square feet, with more than 10,000 square feet for the pews and altar area, big enough to seat more than 800 at one Mass.
Mouton said Diocese of Lafayette Bishop Michael Jarrell supports building a new church in Youngsville, where the population has grown from slightly fewer than 4,200 people in 2000 to almost 9,500 in 2015.
‘Band-Aid on a cancer’
Boutte said expensive repairs completed in 2006 did little to solve the structural problems at the church, whose age church officials estimate at 80 to 100-plus years.
“They spent over $750,000 … and it looks as though it was a Band-Aid put on a cancer,” Boutte said. Though the roof repairs have lasted — a shingled top was replaced with seamless metal — none of the other fixes have held, he said.
The problems with the structure are myriad, Boutte and Mouton said. There’s mold throughout the structure; the window sills for the stained glass on the church walls are rotting; the floor is buckling and has weak spots; the ceiling is damaged; the electrical wiring is problematic; and inspections have revealed serious problems with the structure below the floor.
And, with seating for 450, it’s too small to accommodate the influx of new Catholic residents who are adding to Youngsville’s growing population.
Church officials 10 years ago started laying plans for a new St. Anne Catholic Church. At the time, the church’s lead pastor was the Rev. Louis Lam Vu, Father Vu to parishioners.
Then, like now, a “vocal minority stood up and complained and complained and complained,” Mouton said. “And with the previous pastor (Vu), they won the day.” Vu later transferred to St. Joseph’s in Patterson. He died in 2010.
Mouton said most of the $750,000 spent on the repairs that were finished in 2006 went down the drain.
“I can’t see putting more money into a structure that is falling apart,” he said.
Some of those in Mouton’s described vocal minority staged a surprise visit at the church last week.
At a quickly assembled gathering Thursday among the new-church foes, who met inside the St. Anne church, a ticked-off Mouton wanted to know which of them called a Lafayette television news crew. Mouton said he felt “ambushed” when he opened the office door to find a videographer and a questioning reporter.
None among the group of 17 dissenters, all lifelong St. Anne members who range in age from older to elderly, owned up to calling the station. But they did have plenty to say and questions to ask. Why, some asked, were they not consulted before the decision was announced at church at Mass on Sept. 6? Why was the option of repairing the St. Anne church structure not up for discussion?
Mouton answered that church Advisory Pastoral Council members, who represent the parishioners, OK’d the plans. He also said the project was in the early stages.
And Boutte told them that three-quarters of a million dollars spent on repairs a decade ago didn’t fix the problem and that inspections of the building done by professionals showed the scale of the problems made repairs cost-prohibitive.
Some in the group said they didn’t believe St. Anne Catholic Church was beyond repair; others made pleas not to tear down the St. Anne church they’d known all their lives.
“I’m for keeping this church,” one woman said. “This is my church.”
Burley, whose family donated the land on which the St. Anne church was built, said last week in a phone interview that he believes the structure should be preserved. “My heart tells me we cannot let that building be torn down,” he said.
The Lafayette Preservation Alliance’s Roxana Usner said that although she’s not familiar with the St. Anne church building, she advises saving the structure if it’s feasible. Or at the least church officials should use as much of St. Anne’s current materials as possible. “I hope they salvage some of the interior,” she said.
Boutte acknowledged last week that the arguments are not over.
“I understand the love and the connection they have to the old church, but they have to realize that we as a parish are the church,” he said. “Structures go down every day.”
Jarrell said in an emailed statement Friday that “I have not received a request about a new church. I have read last Sunday’s bulletin from St. Anne, but that is all I know.”