Sts. Peter and Paul Church
66192 St. Mary Drive
Pearl River, LA 70452
The birth of the Catholic Church in Pearl River was a Mass celebrated, Sunday July 5, 1903, by a priest on the mission circuit, at the Crawford home, referred to by the Saint Tammany Farmer as “a prominent local family.” This coming together to pray graced the residents of the area and inspired them to formulate fundraising plans for the purpose of building a church in the Pearl River and Florenville area. The property was donated by James H. Guthrie to the Archdiocese of New Orleans in March, 1904, for the purpose of constructing a church and/or school (St Tammany Land Records). These plans were subsequently approved by Archbishop Louis Placide Chapella, D.D. Construction of a wooden church was started in June, 1904, in the woods in the village of Guthrie Crossing, a small settlement in unincorporated St. Tammany Parish, southwest from Pearl River along Highway LA 1090 and continued into the fall of 1904 (Saint Tammany Farmer, July 5, 1904). Originally, the building did not have a bell tower but one was added in 1906.
On the morning of June 5, 1904, with a large number of local Catholics and invited guests present, the new church was dedicated at Mass celebrated by Right Rev. Abbot Paul Schaenble, O.S.B., and Fr. Paul P Dobyns, O.S.B., the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Slidell. Redemptorist priest, Fr. C. A. McLeod, C.SS.R., of St. Alphonsus Parish in New Orleans, preached the sermon. The church was dedicated in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul and became a mission of the Benedictine Fathers at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington. In 1905, a Benedictine Father traveled by horseback, on the first Sunday of each month, to celebrate Mass at 9:00 a.m. (Saint Tammany Farmer, June 11, 1905)
The Pearl River community cooperated with contributions. Donations were received from friends and members of other denominations as well. Records show a dance and social were held at the local school hall on Monday evening, July 25, 1904, with the proceeds going to help furnish the inside of the church.
In 1913, Sts. Peter and Paul officially became a Mission Church under the care of Fr. Bernard Keating, O.S.B., pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell. In 1914, however, the Catholic population in Pearl River showed such a significant decline that the church, sadly, was closed.
Seven years later, in 1921, the church was re-opened. Catholic families in Pearl River raised funds to move the church building to a more favorable site on Nelson Road within the town limits. The church building was rolled on logs, by twelve oxen about a half-mile up the road to the new site. The land was sold to the Benedictines of St. Joseph Abbey by Hans W. Nelson for the sum of one dollar (Saint Tammany Land Records). With the church situated on the new site, Fr. Juan Martinez, O.S.B., came from Our Lady of Lourdes once a month to celebrate Mass in “The Old Green Church.” For many years, the Benedictine priest who was the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes celebrated Mass once a month at the Mission Church, from 1921 to 1967 as a Mission of Our Lady of Lourdes. We then became a mission of St. Margaret Mary Church in Slidell (Sacramental records from 1968 to December, 1969, are at St. Margaret Mary Church).
In the late 1950’s the Catholic population began to grow in Pearl River and outgrow “The Old Green Church.” Fr. Finton Bru, O.S.B., invited Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel to come to Pearl River to inspect land that Herbert P. Berrigan would donate for a new church, if the location at the intersection of Highway 41 Spur and St. Mary Drive met his approval. The Berrigan gift was approved and accepted by the Archbishop. Archbishop Rummel suggested that the church face the side street so Mr. Berrigan had the street constructed. On March 2, 1958, Fr. Timothy Pugh, O.S.B., and Fr. Ignatius Fossier, O.S.B., officiated at the ground breaking ceremonies. On Sunday, July 6, 1958, Abbot David Melancon, O.S.B., along with Fr. Gregory Robeau, O.S.B., and Fr. Timothy Pugh, O.S.B., laid the cornerstone.
At 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 23, 1958, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel, S.T.D., dedicated the new church in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The building of the new church left the mission community with a debt of about $19,000.00. “The Old Green Church” was converted into the Catholic Community Center of Pearl River and was modified by adding bathroom facilities and a kitchen so that fundraising could be held by the Catholic Social Club to benefit the new church.
The earliest recorded program of Religious Education was begun in 1925 by Miss M. Reuthrop. In 1942, Ms. Cora Nelson taught a class of six children at the home of Mrs. Ludwig. In January 1956, Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Nena Gernon began a program of Religious Education that, with the encouragement of Fr. Tim, became well-organized. Classes met on Monday and Wednesday, beginning in late September and ending in May. In 1958, the Summer School of Religion was held every weekend morning during June at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Swann. The following year, it was held at the home of Mrs. Resor, with nuns from Our Lady of Lourdes teaching. In 1960, the Summer School of Religion was moved into the church building.
With the Religious Education Program requiring more room, Fr. Tim drew up plans for a multipurpose meeting hall with four large classrooms. Work began on the Parish Hall in 1964. Construction was completed in early 1965, at a cost of $64,386.00.
Mrs. Ruby Gauley and Mrs. Pat Himber taught Preschool-age children from 1966 to 1972, under Fr. Tim Pugh, until the public school opened a Kindergarten program.
During the 1960s, Pearl River’s population grew as the aerospace industry impacted the area, and the interstate system allowed easier and faster access to the city of New Orleans. By 1969, there was a need for a resident priest at Sts. Peter and Paul. Archbishop Philip M. Hannan asked Fr. Maur Robira, O.S.B., to take up residence in January, 1970. One of the front classrooms in the Parish Hall was converted into his living quarters. Fr. Maur Robira performed the first recorded baptism of Robert Ellis Craddock on March 28, 1970.
The Catholic community of Pearl River continued to grow and on June 6, 1970, Archbishop Philip Hannan D.D., J.CD., S.T.L., formally wrote the canonical decree establishing the Parish of Sts. Peter and Paul. He assigned Fr. Jean F. Villere as pastor, to render pastoral services for two and one-half years. Fr. Villere performed the first recorded funeral for Clementine D. Brewin on August 8, 1970. On August 12, 1970, Fr. Villere married Tommy Cooper and Zandra Gail Frierson for the first recorded wedding ceremony.
On January 17, 1973, Fr. Thomas P. Brady, C.S.Sp., was appointed the second pastor and served for just eight months. Fr. John Ralph was appointed the third pastor on October 18, 1973.
During those early days as a parish, Mass was celebrated on Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m. Since Fr. Ralph was also Chaplain of Slidell Memorial Hospital and Greenbriar Nursing Home, weekday Masses were celebrated only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In May, 1975, Fr. Ralph returned to Ireland for his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. His leave would extend until after Christmas.
In June, 1975, Archbishop Hannan D.D., J.CD., S.T.L., appointed Fr. Peter Calamari as Temporary Administrator during Fr. Ralph’s absence. During the two months, Fr. Calamari administered the parish; he moved the bingo games from “The Old Green Church” to the Parish Hall. With the help of two seminarians, Michael Fonseca and Johnny Planea, Fr. Calamari brought the community together to celebrate the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. He initiated a parish census to identify the needs of the growing Catholic population in Pearl River.
On August 10, 1975, Fr. Adrian B. Hall became the fourth pastor and was also appointed Chaplain of Slidell Memorial Hospital, as well as Greenbrier and Guest House Nursing Homes. Soon after his arrival, he added a Vigil Mass on Saturday as well as a 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday. He celebrated Mass every weekday with the exception of Wednesday. During his tenure, Fr. Hall brought about many changes to the physical plant.
Sts. Peter and Paul School opened in January, 1977, with a Pre-Kindergarten program. Beginning in the fall of 1978, one grade level was added each year. The classrooms in the Parish Hall were modified to accommodate the school, and an addition to the hall provided space for two more classes. To provide even more space for administration and staff, Fr. Hall vacated his residence in the Parish Hall and purchased a mobile home that would perform dual duty as the Rectory and Parish Office. It was located behind the church building. By 1985, the school offered full educational programs for Pre-K through eight grade.
On June 16, 1979, Fr. Hall purchased 9.8 acres for $115,000.00 from Earl Berrigan. This property was across St. Mary Drive from the church and behind the Berrigan home (now St. Anthony Hall). The property would later become the playground for the school.
He renovated the sanctuary and added a side chapel on the Highway Spur 41 side and a second entrance from the parking lot. He completely redesigned the front entrance to the church in the early 1980’s.
The choir loft at the front entrance and the communion rail were removed and the building was extended to provide space for a Sacristy, a Confessional and a large Vestibule. In June, 1982, Fr. Hall left Sts. Peter and Paul to establish the new Parish of St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell.
Fr. William O’Brien was appointed June 19, 1982, as the fifth pastor. In June 1983, he added stained glass windows in the side chapel on the Highway Spur 41 side and in the vestibule of the church.
On July 9, 1983, the Silver Anniversary, of the dedication of the church, Fr. O’Brien planned a reception for the parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
In May, 1984, he purchased a home at the end of St. Mary Drive and moved the Rectory and Parish Office to that location. Because of continuing poor health, Fr. O’Brien asked Archbishop Hannan for a new assignment and was assigned to Sacred Heart in Lacombe. He was later murdered in the rectory for the Sunday Collection.
On March 23, 1985, Fr. Michael B. Fraser became the sixth pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. One of the first concerns of Fr. Fraser was the management and stability of the school. A detached building to house the Pre-K class was added in 1985. The free-standing library structure was built in 1986. A weekly parish bulletin was again being published for the pastor to communicate with his people.
Fifteen years a parish (June 6, 1970), attendance at daily Mass increased. Mass is celebrated every day with the exception of Monday. There is a Vigil Mass on Saturday and three Masses on Sunday. Fr. Kieran O’Hara came from Lacombe to assist. John Howard has served the parish as a Permanent Deacon since his ordination in December 1985.
The annual Solemn Novena in Honor of St. Jude, with distinguished guest homilists, began gracing the parish in 1986 and brought many blessings, including the return to the faith of many fallen-away Catholics, as well as being the seed for conversions.
Once again, the aerospace industry affected the demographics of the area with the space shuttle “Challenger” disaster coupled with trouble in the oil fields resulted in an out-migration of young families. The school enrollment dropped, and at the end of the school year in May, 1987, Sts. Peter and Paul School closed, leaving the church with a debt of $258,000.00.
A pastoral council known as the Parish Life and Activity Committee was formed in 1990. Organizations came into being—Antonians, Grand Adults of Sts. Peter and Paul (GASPP!), Family Life Organization (FLO), Spiritual Life Committee and Legion of Mary joined the already active Altar Society and Finance Committee. Covered Dish Suppers, Parish Picnics and the New Year Celebration with our own fireworks display brought forth a sense of community and fellowship.
To enhance the Church’s presence in the community, carillon chimes, a gift of the Stella Roman Foundation, were installed in September, 1988. In 1991, the Archdiocese took title to the 9.8 acres of vacant church-owned land on Spur 41. The parish then purchased 2.38 acres contiguous to the Church and Parish Hall. This exchange lowered the debt for the parish.
All major fundraising functions were eliminated. The Church relied solely on tithing and the generosity of parishioners for Church revenue. By 1993 at the New Year Celebration, Sts. Peter and Paul was debt free. In 1994, an artist restored the church statuary, and faux marbling was placed on the face of the sanctuary. The Parish was also blessed with the Tomb of the Unborn Child by the Slidell Knights of Columbus Council No. 2732
In July, 1995, Fr. Bac-Hai Viet Tran became the seventh pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul. Fr. Hai, as he preferred to be called, continued with the growth of the Parish.
In July, 1996, Knights of Columbus Council No. 11814 was created. Fr. Hai also saw the organization of a St. Joseph Altar Guild in March, 1997. He was instrumental in starting a Lenten Mission, held during Holy Week beginning in 1997, with guest speakers.
Through the efforts of parishioner Wayne Higginbotham, the relief of the Blessed Mother that hung in the lobby of Hotel Dieu Hospital in New Orleans was donated to Sts. Peter and Paul Church. The Shrine of the Blessed Mother was dedicated and blessed by Most Reverend Gregory M. Aymond on May 3, 1998.
Fr. Hai headed the planning of a beautiful new rectory across the street from the Church offices and facilities. The new rectory was completed in November, 1998. Most Revered Archbishop Philip Hannan D.D., J.CD., S.T.L., dedicated and blessed this new building on May 2, 1999, with parishioners invited to view the interior at an Open House.
A complete walking census of the parish was started in August 1998, and completed in October 2001.
In December, 1999, two men from our Parish were ordained Deacons Francis W. Drake (Frank) and John P. Downey (Pat). Frank was assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish full-time and Pat was assigned to Southeastern LA. Hospital in Mandeville, and as an assistant at Sts. Peter and Paul.
To meet our growing needs, the St. Joseph Workshop was constructed in March, 2000. The Parish added a new confessional and Bell Tower on the parking lot side of the church in June, 2001, which enabled the addition of a larger Cry Room. On July 17, 2003, the Parish purchased the home on the corner of St. Mary Drive and Highway Spur 41, across from the Church and next to the rectory. The building was named St. Anthony Hall and is used for classes and meetings.
In April, 2005, Knights of Columbus Council No. 11814 presented the Parish with a marble Ten Commandments and Beatitude monument that was placed at the side entrance to the Church.
Fr. Hai and the parishioners were very blessed in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina passed over the Pearl River community. The Parish had some downed trees, and roof damage to the hall and annex building, but was up and running in less than two weeks. That first Sunday, Mass was held in the Parish Hall. The lights were still out, but the faithful came. They sat in the dimly lit hall and knelt on the concrete floor, giving thanks to God.
On July 14, 2007, Fr. Thomas M. McCann III was appointed Parochial Administrator of Sts. Peter and Paul. After completion of one year service, Fr. Tom was announced pastor and continued to oversee growth of the Parish. Fr. Tom inherited a $75,000.00 debt on St. Anthony Hall and in, one year, reduced the debt to $15,532.00.
Fr. Tom added a popular town hall style meeting called “Nibbles and Bits,” where parishioners came together to present new ideas for discussion and plan for the future.
Deacon Richard Calkins joined our staff in February, 2008. Deacon Eugene Templet was ordained a deacon on December 13, 2008, and has been assigned to our Parish and the St. Tammany Parish Jail.
The beautiful outdoor Stations of the Cross was relocated closer to the church. To enhance the beauty and accessibility of the stations, a sidewalk has been poured and engraved memorial bricks added at the foot of each station. Flower beds have also been planned. In the center of the walk way a cross was constructed listing the priests and deacons who are and have served our Church.
The “Pumpkin Patch”, a new addition to the parish helped to raise funds for the parish and community service projects. Construction of the restroom in the church building was a dream come true.
On July 15, 2011, Fr. Ray A. Hymel, was assigned pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul. Fr. Ray continued with Fr. Tom’s works of remodeling the Parish Hall. The remodeling of both the men’s and women’s restroom has been completed. We also now have a very modern and up to date kitchen facility
In July, 2013, Fr. Burnick (Bernie) Terrebonne was assigned as pastor.