Store away the purple, green and gold for Lent is here, a time for penance and sacrifice! Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular and important days in the liturgical calendar. Chiefly observed by Catholics, Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer.

Today, Ash Wednesday seemed a good time to tell you a story about an old religious statue found in the wall of a house in Old Gretna.

David and Lisa Sanchez LaFrance have owned their home on Huey P. Long Avenue since 2015. While doing some renovations in the home, David opened a closet wall next to the fireplace and found a treasure.

“I was talking on the phone to my friend who suffers bouts of depression and loneliness. At times she responds to negativity, losing sight of more important things she cares about. She previously felt better at her church, praying about this. She’s lost her way instead of staying out of this drama. I told her that she will always be lonely and unhappy if she didn’t give it to God and stop participating in this. She also struggles with a crippling disease,” Lisa said.

“We talk a lot about these times and I started to get impatient. My husband, David, suddenly came out of our closet that he was working on with a statue. The statue is of St Anthony.      

“I had goosebumps! These were my exact words. I told my dear friend about this. My husband was using tools to open the walls. By some miracle, he did not damage this beautiful and fragile piece. What a blessing!” she said.

Burying religious statues in walls is not a common practice that we were aware of, so off we went to see what others knew about this strange find. Also, it seemed odd that it was a statue of St. Anthony and not of St. Joseph, since the home is located very near the historic church and he seems to be the patron saint of the neighborhood. 

The first person questioned, of course, was Rev. Francis Carabello, the retired longtime pastor of St. Joseph Church-Gretna. If anyone knew about this custom, it would surely be him. Father Frank said he had never heard of the practice of burying statues in walls. “Perhaps the people who placed the statue in the wall of this house were devoted to St. Anthony and wanted to honor him in this way,” he said. “Perhaps the owners felt St. Anthony’s presence would protect the home and be a blessing.”   

Many people were questioned about the statue hiding practice to no avail.

But Hyman Bartolo Jr., owner of H. Bartolo Contractors Inc. led us to another story. He didn’t know about the custom of burying statues in walls, but he had a client for whom he built a beautiful home in Gretna that had included religious items in the building process.

Prayer Cards and Medals………..

Armando and Darlene Rodriguez moved into their home in 2000. During the building process in 1999, they blessed the house in an unusual way.

“After the entire house was framed, we went through and stapled holy pictures throughout the walls of the entire house. We also placed holy medals on the ledges (fire breaks) of the framework everywhere. Although our family’s patron saint is St. Joseph and we have roots with him that go back generations, prayer cards and medals for every saint were put in every room,” Darlene said. “We went to the religious store and bought hundreds of those items.”

“We had placed a crucifix in the framed fireplace. It was just sitting there when we left the house one day, but missing when we returned. Our cross was gone! We looked and looked and couldn’t find out what had happened to it.       

“When the technician was installing speakers for our sound system, he opened the space and pulled stuffing and packing out to discover the “lost” crucifix that miraculously was unharmed. Evidently one of the workers had shoved the cross into the wall space intended for a speaker. 

“When our swimming pool was being constructed, before the gunite was applied to the surface of the pool, we threw hundreds of saints medals into the huge hole that was layered with wire mesh rebar.      

“Our house has been blessed with no damages from storms including Hurricane Katrina,” she said.  

Tabernacle Blessing….

A wonderful thing happened to me last summer. A friend gave me a very special gift, a tabernacle. The word “tabernacle” means “dwelling place.” It is a special vessel which is located behind the church altar. In a Catholic church it is so named because it is a place where Christ dwells in the Eucharist. Catholics believe that Christ is present in the bread and therefore it cannot be thrown away, so it is stored in the tabernacle to be used again. It is locked so that the danger of profanation is avoided.

There is no known provenance of this tabernacle. A Catholic priest, who had been assigned in various Louisiana parishes over the years gave it to a Catholic friend, a relative of my benefactor.  It is believed to have been replaced by a new tabernacle in a new church about 20 years ago.

You can celebrate Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes at St. Joseph Church in Gretna at any of three Masses being offered at 8:00 a.m., 12:10 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.