By Paul Gagneaux, staff writer
Grand Isle residents say it is faith in the Lord despite continued challenges that keeps Our Lady of the Isle’s church community strong. However, Hurricane Ida left many members indefinitely displaced, leaving a lasting impact on this community of faith.
“It’s sad to say that there are people who can’t and probably never will come back,” says Carroll Allemand, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Isle.
— Carroll Allemand, parishioner
While the Catholic community of Grand Isle remains lively, Allemand says the number of people attending masses is much lower than it was before the hurricane. However, Ida is not solely to blame.
Grand Isle’s faith community has overcome incredible challenges in its 109 years from the COVID-19 pandemic to Hurricane Ida’s devastation. The church was built in 1913 after the previous chapel was destroyed by the Great Storm of 1893. Though the Kate Chopin historical site names the Great Storm one of the worst recorded hurricanes in Louisiana’s history, Hurricane Ida was more effective at wounding a community still hurting from a pandemic.
“People can’t rebuild because they can’t afford it,” says island resident Helen Tabor. “Their insurance does not provide enough for them.”
Another island local, Liz Watkin, says the coronavirus pandemic diminished the community’s numbers even before Hurricane Ida did.
“It’s dwindled a lot since Covid-19,” she says. “A lot of people couldn’t go, and a lot of people haven’t come back since. I think they got out of the habit of going to church.”
Kristie L. Domangue, one of the church’s office workers, says Our Lady of the Isle has lost about 20 members of its congregation due to Ida.
Though attendance has decreased since the storm, many still faithfully attend Mass. As the church’s repairs progress, Masses continue to take place at their regularly scheduled times.
Our Lady of the Isle’s current priest, Fr. Mark Toups was assigned to the church in July of 2020. After taking some time away, he returned to Grand Isle shortly after Hurricane Ida. Members of the church say they love Fr. Mark and speak nothing but praises of him.
“I think if we could get people back here, and he stays, we could bring people back – Father Mark definitely brings people,” Watkins says.
The parishioners, clergy members and employees of Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church say they have faith that their community is still strong despite a loss of members, and they believe their faith is more than enough to make up for what has been lost – both in Grand Isle and within the church community.