There will be a “Raising of the Ribbon” during a celebratory Mass at St. Joseph Church and Shrine in Gretna on Saturday, October 17 at 4 p.m.
The Restoration Committee, the core group and the countless hardworking restoration volunteers are extending a very special invitation indeed!
“All people who love historic St. Joseph Church and, especially those who have participated in any way with the restoration efforts are invited to come and witness the ribbon raising.” Covid-19 restrictions for social distancing and mask-wearing must be observed.
The ribbon goes up the “Bell Tower Gauge” that hangs near the altar of the church. Parishioners have watched the ribbon go up, up, up, currently paused at $875,000, trying to reach the ultimate $1,200,000 Restoration total.
The landmark ribbon raising on the gauge next Saturday will make a significant jump upwards to account for the recent sale of tax credits earned through the Louisiana State Commercial Tax Credits program.
The 20% State Commercial Tax Credit was created in 2002 by the Louisiana Legislature to encourage the redevelopment of income-producing historic buildings in Louisiana’s Downtown Development Districts. In 2007, the enabling program legislation was amended to allow historic buildings located in certified Cultural Districts to be program-eligible. The program is jointly administered by the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation and the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
Parishioner James Rolf of Rolf Preservation Works, LLC, a professional in the field of preservation/tax credits donated his time and skills as lead preservation consultant on the restoration work. This included a tedious and technical tax credit process, ensuring compliance throughout the project, working with the archdiocese and accountants after the restoration and negotiating with tax credit investors to get top dollar for the sale of the credits.
“The church easily qualified for the tax credit program since it was already listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983. However, all restoration work had to be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) before the project could begin,” James Rolf said.
This third church building has been gracing the landscape of Old Gretna since 1927. Founded in 1857, St. Joseph’s is the “Mother Church” of 14 Catholic parishes in West Jefferson all the way to Grand Isle that were carved from the large territory that was once St. Joseph Parish. In her way, she has touched the lives of many through generations of baptisms, weddings and funerals.
“The Mother Church needed a major exterior renovation. The protective sealant over the stucco on the exterior of the building was trapping moisture against the building, forcing its way inside. A minimum of 80% of the sealant had to be removed and a new breathable sealant applied. With a 99’ high bell tower, it was no easy fete.
“Scaffolding went up which allowed for a close-up examination of the building. This assessment indicated extensive refurbishment needed on the cast stone detailing, columns, and precious statues and angels that adorn the exterior. There was also old termite damage in the auditorium that needed repair,” Rolf said.
Although restoration fundraising events did not officially begin until March 2018, the Restoration Committee was formed in October 2017. The original goal was to raise an estimated $500,000, but it became apparent rather quickly that the estimate was unrealistic. The real cost had grown to $1,200,000.
A Restoration Campaign was designed that started with solicitation of grants, applying for Louisiana state tax credits, the much-needed parishioners’ donations, soliciting major sponsors and special fundraising events. The committee approved the campaign and the race was on!
Restoration Fund kicked off when the St. Joseph Women’s Club pledged to match the donations of its members and collected a whopping $22,000+!
A community fundraising effort commenced with the creation of “The Mother Church Cookbook,” in which the parishioners participated by supplying over 500 family-favorite recipes, most gathered in the weekly collection baskets. The first 1,000 cookbooks were delivered by our generous printer, Phil Blanchard of Ferdie’s Printing Services for the 2018 St. Joseph Day Altar gift shop. So many cookbooks sold at the Altar that a week later, another 1,000 was ordered. A third edition was printed a year later.
Over 2,000 of the Cookbooks have added $45,000 to the fund to-date. The popular cookbooks are available at Fleurty Girl Gretna, Old Gretna Pharmacy, Westbank Religious Supply House in Marrero and at the St. Joseph Church Gift Shop and church office.
Restoration sold hot dogs and hamburgers at Gretna Lundi Gras three years running and who can forget St. Joseph’s pastor, Father Gary Copping dressed as a hot dog!
There have been two huge Rummage Sales and a St. Joseph School Class Reunion. Father Gary showed up as an alligator at the two Chili Cookoffs on the River and was St. Joseph himself in the Restoration booth in Gretna Fest’s Italian Village. There was a chicken dinner, a spaghetti dinner and countless raffles ranging from religious items to Saints footballs.
Due to the pandemic, the only large special event in 2020 was the fabulous, highly successful “Burgundy Dance,” the brainchild of Ray Markase.
Major Sponsors have stepped up in a big way monetarily and the continued monthly generosity of the parishioners have continued to raise the ribbon which is moved up in $25,000 increments. Even through Covid-19, with a shutdown community, the ribbon has been raised three times.
“Pope St John XXIII was credited with saying, “God, this is Your Church. You take care of it. I am going to bed.” When I learned that our Restoration Project would run around 1.2 million dollars, I adapted the saying to St. Joseph, “Joseph, you are the universal patron of the Church and the particular patron of this church, you pay for the restoration, I am going to bed,” Father Gary said.
“Thank God for Sleeping St Joseph, our dreams have come true!
“Through the intercession of St Joseph, the parishioners stepped forward to pay the debt through their time, talent and tithe. Although I thank the multitudes for their help, I must single out one person, Mr. James Rolf. Through his help, we were able to apply and receive tax credits for our Restoration.
“To say how much he helped, let me just say that he figuratively took every registered family’s blue Restoration envelope and put $2,000 in it. To answer the question that just came to your mind, “No, you cannot take that $2,000 off your individual taxes,” Father laughingly said.
The Restoration Committee, which also serves as the Parish Finance Committee includes, Chairman Mary Helen Williams, Belinda Constant, Kim Enger, Linda LaBorde, Mary Grace Orsag and Bill Swiler. After Bill’s untimely death, James Rolf was invited to serve. Father Gary and Deacon Jerry Labadot also serve on the committee.
Hoping that pandemic restrictions will be lifted, in early January 2021, the Restoration group plans to host a Meatballs & Spaghetti or a Chicken Dinner, whichever will be decided by popular demand.
For more information about the Restoration Project or to acquire “The Mother Church Cookbook,” call the church office at 504.368.1313, visit www.stjosephgretna.com or visit one of the retailers listed above.