By Chakyra Butler
In Paincourtville, about five miles away from Grand Bayou, stands a brick, Gothic-style Catholic church with twin towers. St. Elizabeth Church has been the religious center of the area, including Grand Bayou, for more than 100 years.
“It is still just so special,” says Jessica Rousseau Baye, a Grand Bayou native. “It’s a huge, beautiful church in a very very small community. There are so many of those in Louisiana, but ours is special.”
For some residents, the church’s physical appearance makes it stand out.
“It is gorgeous,” says Jerry Rousseau, 81, a Grand Bayou native who has been attending St. Elizabeth Church since he was a baby and was even baptized there. “It’s a Gothic-style church. All paintings on the ceilings and all that.”
He says the church has not changed much since he was a child, except for the altar being changed. Almost everything else, like the seats, are the same and, he says with a smile, the seats are still uncomfortable.
At one time, churchgoers paid for their own pews. Families often paid 25 cents to “own” a pew, designating that spot in the church as their assigned seats. Rousseau says he remembers his family owning a pew on the left side of the church.
Now, Rousseau says visitors sit wherever they want.
While the physical structure is memorable, parishioners say it’s the life lessons that mean the most.
“When I go in that church, I just see all my family there,” says Betty Crochet Breland, who was born and raised in Grand Bayou. “I see all the Grand Bayou people.”
Breland and Baye’s shared grandmother, Adele Rousseau, was the bride in the first officiated marriage held in St. Elizabeth.
Breland says St. Elizabeth was the center of the surrounding towns. Grand Bayou, Bayou Corne, and the church brings back memories of communities coming together to worship.
“It’s always going to be a part of our lives,” Baye says. “It’s never gonna go away.”
People who have moved away from the area still travel back to St. Elizabeth to have Mass and bury family members. Baye says she now goes to St. John the Evangelist in Thibodaux, but she and her family still go to St. Elizabeth for special events.
And as Baye told the last of her grandchildren who attended St. Elizabeth School: “No matter where you go, you are never gonna find another school and church like this in your entire life. You will always have this memory, and it’s beautiful.”