The History of St. Rose de Lima
The History of St. Rose Parish and School are interrelated and dates back over one hundred years. The first school in Bay Saint Louis for African American children was opened in 1868 where twenty-four African American children attended. It was a two-story white building originally located on Second Street where Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary stands now. This school for African American students came into existence about 13 years after St. Joseph Academy (1855) was opened. At the time, it was affiliated with Our Lady of the Gulf Church.
The Sisters of St. Joseph were asked, in 1855, to take over the school. This was a side job to their many activities at St. Joseph Academy for Girls. In 1921, they asked that some other group take over the African American school since they found it too difficult to run both. At this time, the priest of the Society of the Divine Word took over the care of the school.
The Divine Word Missionaries were a group of religious Priests and Brothers, originally a German congregation, who had come to Techny, IL in the United States in 1895. They moved to the South in 1921 and established a Seminary in Greenville, MS. They trained African American men to the Priesthood and Religious Life, as they were not welcomed in any other Seminary at that time. Due to the racial climate in the area, the Seminary was transferred to Bay Saint Louis in order to be near a more Catholic atmosphere. Along with training African American Men, the SVD’s took on the responsibility of educating the African American Children.
In 1923, Fr. Baltes was appointed head of the African American School. Father Baltes immediately recognized that a separate parish and school needed to be established for the African American community. He saw the need for full time sisters and so four sister servants of the Holy Spirit joined him in 1924. Father Baltes decided to leave the old building and move to property he had purchased on Necaise Ave. On August 28, 1925, St. Rose de Lima was made independent of Our Lady of the Gulf Church. That same year the present church was built by efforts of parishioners.
On November 14, 1926, St. Rose De Lima, was dedicated by Bishop Richard Gerow along with eleven priests. To add to the Solemnity of the Occasion, 42 persons made their first communion in the morning and were confirmed in the afternoon. The parish of St, Rose had become a reality.
Built in 1926 under the auspices of the German-based missionary Society of the Divine Word, St. Rose de Lima Church was created for the African-Amercian population of Bay St. Louis. Next to the stucco church is a cemetery that reveals the town’s historic blend of cultures.
Through the years, there have been numerous structural repairs as well as cosmetic changes. However, after 65 years of service, our “house of worship” was in need of general repair and renovation.
Seeking a way to re-acquaint St. Rose parishioners with themselves as a parish and the parish with its ethnic heritage, Fr. Kenneth Hamilton developed the concept “Re-Rooting and Re Routing in Christ”, a program which included the renovation of the physical church root-sharing with parishioners telling their family history (roots) during Mass and developing artwork depicting the ethnic make-up of the parish while illustrating the basic concept of our Catholic faith: Christ is Risen!
The two German-style stained-glass windows were installed at the time of construction, but they are unsigned and no records of their maker remain. Their overall compositions are almost identical, with Mary receiving the news of her role as the mother of Jesus in the right window and in the left window St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, with her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Above the baptismal font is a portrayal of the River of Life dating to the 1991 renovation.
When the entire project was completed, St. Rose parishioners celebrated with a grand rededication ceremony, which was held on August 25, 1991, the weekend of the church’s 65th anniversary.
Mainly local craftsmen, who did the carpentry, electrical work and painting of the church, undertook the renovation. Mother earth provided the raw materials (trees) for the altar, ambo, the tabernacle stand and the table for the water and wine. The Altar base is fashioned from a piece of driftwood that had washed ashore near St. Stanislaus College and is set so the roots seemingly reach for heaven. The altar top is made of rough hewn planks glued together then cut to roughly conform to the general outline of the base. The tabernacle stand, the ambo and the table for the water and wine are also made from trees found in the Bay area. Each piece was carefully chosen for its singular purpose and was required to blend harmoniously with the central theme of the artistic renovation.
The focal point of the sanctuary is a powerful mural, designed by New Orleans artist Auseklis Ozols and dating to the 1991 Renovation, that covers the wall behind the altar. Representing both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, it features a strongly realistic Christ of mixed heritage. Behind him, but draped in an early morning fog, is an equally realistic ancient live oak tree with its Spanish moss and century plants. Christ wears a cloth trimmed in Kente cloth. The figure of Christ floats...free of bonds and burdens of this earth...” before a huge oak tree, “the Cross... grasping the ground with ample roots yet reaching up toward the heavens...”and the names of parishioners’ families are painted at the sides. Thus, the mural portrays the congregation’s pride in its personal heritages as well as the Christian tradition.
In 2011, much needed renovations were once again completed. New electrical, carpet, painting, new restrooms, confessional, cry room, storage room and complete remodeling of the Sacristy, as well as the choir room took place. A fresh coat of paint has brought new light into the Sanctuary. On August 21, 2011, a celebration for the rededication of the newly renovated church was celebrated, with Bishop Roger Morin officiating. The walls of the historic church were filled with joyful noise. A combined choir was formed including the Senior Traditional Choir, which normally sings at the 4:00pm Saturday Vigil, the Gospel Choir and the All Male Ensemble who sing at the Sunday 9:00am Mass. The Handmaidens of the Lord Liturgical dancers filled the aisles with movement as a new & vibrant parish was rededicated. Currently St. Rose is a very diverse parish made up of over 400 parishioners. Its doors are open to all who wish to worship the Lord. Its motto, as you have seen on the cover of the weekly bulletin is “You are never too bad to come in......., and never too good to stay out.”