the church that wouldn’t die
In an area devastated by multiple catastrophic hurricanes since the 1960’s, St. Ann Mission Church in Empire, Louisiana, is a survivor. The church’s white steeple would stand tall above the flat landscape when neighboring homes and businesses were destroyed and washed away.
Croatian immigrants settled in this area near the mouth of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish. They worked as oyster fisherman, a tradition that continues to this day. As the population grew, the community got a post office and the name Empire.
boat builder constructs st. ann church
The task of constructing St. Ann mission church in Empire went to John Edgecombe, a local boat builder. The church was built in 1922 from cypress lumber that came from nearby forests. Edgecombe’s construction technique has withstood the test of time and several major hurricanes. Church parishioner Mitch Jurisich says his grandmother’s house was next to the church. When Hurricane Betsy pounded the community in 1965, Jurisich recalls, “The church just floated off its foundation and twisted a little bit until it bumped into my grandmother’s little shop.” The same thing happened four years later when powerful Hurricane Camille swept across the community.
st. ann survives katrina
Katrina caused the most devastation of any hurricane to hit the Empire area. The storm’s catastrophic winds and a storm surge of more than 20 feet swept across the area in 2005. St. Ann church survived Katrina’s wrath. “That was the only building left on its original piece of property in this whole area,” says Jurisich. Church member Barbara Oustalet adds, “Some people say if you flip the church she would float because the attic of this church is like the hull of a boat.”
watch this tv feature on st. ann’s 100th anniversary
Planning for a 100th birthday celebration
Oustalet says she learned in the spring of 2021 that St. Ann would reach the 100th anniversary of its opening in March of 2022. She and others began the process of planning a special mass, compiling the church’s history in a commemorative book, creating a poster, and contacting members who had moved away from the area. Hurricane Ida interrupted that process. “The Lady survived,” says Oustalet. The wooden chapel was repaired and given a fresh coat of paint. The building was in near mint condition for its birthday.
overflow crowd for 100th anniversary at st. ann
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond marked St. Ann’s 100th anniversary in a special mass on March 5, 2022. The church only has enough seating for 120 people. A crowd estimated at more than 400 attended, and listened from tents on the church’s front lawn. The mass became an reunion. “There were people here that hadn’t been here in 40 years,” said Oustalet. She predicts the celebration will have a lasting impact on the church, which has experienced a decline in membership as hurricanes have forced people to move to higher ground. “I think it will bring more people back to this church,” Oustalet commented. “Whether it’s local people, or people that just came for the day, they will be back here.” St. Ann has a weekly mass at 6:30pm on Saturday.
a true survivor
As she reflected on the success of St. Ann’s 100th anniversary, Oustalet had this to say. “This church is a survivor. She is miracle. How she has survived as long as she has, only God knows.” St. Ann has proven to be an anchor and a beacon of hope for the community of Empire.
St. Ann Church is located at 32949 Hwy 11, Buras, LA. It is a mission of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Port Sulphur, LA.