Nobody Can Resist Our Lady

Once the wheels are set in motion, no one can resist Mary, our Blessed Mother

The Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary are carried in procession at the Fête-Dieu du Teche in Louisiana.
The Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary are carried in procession at the Fête-Dieu du Teche in Louisiana. (photo: Chris Lancon / Courtesy of the Fête-Dieu du Teche)

Conversion stories often include surprising events, especially when Our Lady is involved. Joey Aucoin will surely tell you that about his experience five years ago.

At the time he was a Baptist, happily married for 17 years to his Catholic wife Mona. They live in south-central Louisiana.

“I was going to a Catholic church with her although I was Baptist,” he begins. “A lot of things as Baptist I didn’t understand. And not understanding what Catholics did, of course, I was taught what the Catholics were doing was wrong. But I’d look past all that. I didn’t get deep into it. The whole time for 17 years there was so much I couldn’t understand.”

Still, Joey would go to church fairly regularly with his wife and children. They met, and became good friends with, Kenny and Lisa Schmidt. Then the Fête-Dieu du Teche, an annual 40-mile Eucharistic Boat Procession along south central Louisiana’s Bayou Teche every Aug. 15 (the Solemnity of the Assumption) which attracts thousands of people, proved to be the unexpected turning point. (See the companion article on this year’s Fête-Dieu du Teche.)

That year, 2016, the procession was not able to be done by boats. Trucks had to be used to carry the portable altar for the monstrance and the other important items, including the two bells from the lead boat that would ring as the boats moved along.

“Kenny volunteered to carry one of the bells up front,” Joey said. “We have basically the same kind of truck, and he volunteered me to carry the second bell.” He told his friend, “I’m not even Catholic. I’ll go to the first church Mass and then leave. But that got changed real quick.” He was not going to disappoint his good friend Kenny.

The day before the fête, his wife Mona was on the phone with Kenny’s wife Lisa, joking back and forth.

“I was washing my truck for the procession,” Aucoin said, “and she’s giggling and said to me, ‘You might want to wash the bed of your truck again, the inside.’ I said, ‘It’s fine. I’m carrying a giant cast iron bell on a wooden pallet.’ My wife said, ‘No! Your truck didn’t get put onto the list soon enough. So you’re actually carrying Mary!’”

“That was God’s way of saying, ‘I’m going to put you on the spot now.’” Aucoin chuckles. “Mary was my biggest hang-up. … That was one of my biggest issues as a Baptist with the Catholic Church.” He didn’t understand the Rosary. “I loved the Rosary (he would pray it with the family at times), I loved the crucifix — it was great to look up at Jesus and pray. But when you pray the Rosary, you say 10 Hail Marys but only one Our Father. To someone who didn’t understand the Rosary and how important it was, why say 10 Hail Marys before one Our Father? That was my biggest hang-up.”

Came the day of the fête.

The statue of Mary as Our Lady of the Assumption was huge and had to be carried by four people. “The minute we knew that Mary got me at that procession,” he said, was a jarring incident. “After we had fixed the statue to the base, and put it near the altar, the altar servers came in for practice procedures with her down the aisle. She was on a tall base with wooden poles on either side. When they went to lift her, two altar servers didn’t get a good grasp and they almost dropped her.” They were on the same side and the statue and base tilted precariously sideways. Someone right there caught her.

But already as the statue of Mary was tilting, “I bolted out of the pew and was almost making a run to the front knowing I got to go catch her,” Aucoin said. “I’m halfway up the back of the Church and trying to run up and catch her before she hit the floor,” then relieved because “they got her. I stopped and everybody there that knew me was giggling because I would be the last person to jump up and run after a statue.”

“My wife grinned and said, ‘She got you!’”

The proof was easy to spot as it continued. The couple of times Mary could not be moved from the truck to one of the churches at the stops along the way, Aucoin carefully covered the indoor statue to keep it safe and dry from the momentary drizzle.

“At the end of the day I would not let anyone else carry her,” he well remembers. “I got Kenny and told him, ‘We’re going to do it.’”

Kenny answered, “She got you now.”

The last stop for the fête at the end of the day put the cap on it. It was at the Community of Jesus Crucified in St. Martinsville. “Father Champagne (the community superior and organizer of the fête) was giving a homily at last Mass. We had already moved Mary inside, out of the rain. We were all tired. And Father Champagne said something — and everything clicked. I understood at that point right there why I was so concerned about the Mary statue and Mary. I was sitting there and jumped up in the pew and said, ‘I got it! My wife said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘I got it!’”

When he told Father Champagne, the priest said to him, “From the minute we put her in the first Mass and you tried to go save her, I knew you had it and I knew she had you.”

He does not remember exactly what Father Champagne said or even “remember the reading, whatever it was,” Aucoin said, but kiddingly he adds, “She beat on my head from the back of my truck. I knew why she was so important, why we have to pray the Rosary, why we keep her on that high level. For a Baptist like myself to get it was a big shock. All day I could see her in the rearview mirror staring at me! It was heavy, awkward, the majority of the day, but by the end of the day, I teared up about it. All the complaining and growling I was doing was simply because I didn’t want to understand it. I didn’t believe it or want to accept it. That one day, every time I looked in that mirror, I felt like a pop on head like your mother would do.

“I like to think of myself as a strong person,” Aucoin went on. “There is very little I fear in life — people or animals. But just to talk about that day five years ago tears me up. It humbles me because I know how much I was fighting it.”

“I know it wasn’t an accident we had so much rain that day, or we had to go by vehicle, and I got volunteered even though I didn’t want to go,” he now knows. “It took that much of a struggle for Jesus to let me know how important his mother is. All these things had to line up 100% for me to be in that spot with that statue.” And it all happened on Mary’s feast day of her Assumption.

Within a couple of months, Aucoin went through all his preparation classes with Father Champagne, made his first confession in one of the congregation’s mobile confessionals and continues, as he puts it, to “get humbled on a regular basis.”

Mary always shows she cares for her children, and as Joey Aucoin’s story proves, has plenty of ways to bring them home.

A boat carries a statue of Our Lady down the Bayou Teche.
A boat carries a statue of Our Lady down the Bayou Teche.(Photo: Chris Lancon)Chris J Lancon
Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880

This Sunday, I’ll Be Going to Church. Will You Join Me?

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” [CCC 2181]