Grace Notes: Annual dinner honors Abbey _lowres

Advocate photo by KAREN BAKER -At the Catholic Foundation dinner in Covington are, from left, Eileen Sykes-Parr, publicity chairperson; the Rev. Matthew Clark, St. Joseph Abbey; Archbishop Gregory Aymond; Guy Chiappetta, Northshore Chapter Committee Coordinator; Abbot Justin Brown; the Rev. James Wehner, president-rector of Notre Dame Seminary; and Mary Jane Becker, Catholic Foundation.

The Northshore Chapter of the Catholic Foundation held its annual dinner on May 2 at Tchefuncta Country Club, honoring St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College.

The Benedictine monastery north of Covington is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

“I was there over 40 years ago,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said of the seminary college, located on the beautiful grounds of the monastery. “What a great blessing it is for the archdiocese to have a monastic community” in our midst, he said. “We are very grateful.”

Aymond also expressed his gratitude for the Catholic Foundation and the Northshore Chapter, saying that the foundation provides “spiritual support and stewardship to do what we are supposed to do in God’s name.”

“God has blessed us,” Abbot Justin Brown said, recounting the history of the seminary college, which was started near Ponchatoula in December 1889 by a small group of monks from St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana. In the intervening years, the seminary college faced obstacles but endured, moving to the present Covington location in 1901. Enrollment has grown, faltered and now is steadily climbing. This year, the seminary college has 125 students, the largest enrollment in more than 30 years.

Over the years, the abbey has contributed to the community that surrounds it. The abbot described the pastoral care that priests from the abbey provide on the north shore, and he called the archbishop “a great friend … We look joyfully to the future.”

The Rev. James Wehner, rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary, was the main speaker for the evening, and he highlighted the collaboration between St. Joseph Seminary and Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

“Father Gregory (Bouquet, president and rector) forms young men to be men,” Wehner said. “And Notre Dame Seminary forms them to be priests. You can’t be a good priest if you are not a good man.”

“For 125 years, the missionary zeal and spirit” at St. Joseph Seminary “has been forming young men to be men, to be shepherds, to be leaders. That is a gift to the church.”

That missionary character, he said, started when the monks from Indiana made their way to the north shore under the leadership of the Rev. Luke Gruwe, and it continues today.

“It is that spirit that contributes to the evangelization of the culture,” Wehner said.

The abbey will continue celebrating its 125th anniversary with a series of events. For information, visit

Karen Baker covers faith and spirituality for St. Tammany Parish. She can be reached at or (985) 264-1627.