The Blessed Sacrament on the Bayou
Fête-Dieu du Teche: Louisiana Eucharistic boat pilgrimage honors the Christian family.
Every year, the Blessed Sacrament is eagerly awaited by the faithful along a waterway in the Louisiana bayou.
Thousands of people took part in the seventh-annual Fête-Dieu du Teche (Feast of God on the Teche), a 40-mile Eucharistic boat procession along south-central Louisiana’s Bayou Teche, a route to the Gulf of Mexico. The procession takes place each year on the Solemnity of the Assumption.
“We’re a big fan of the procession,” said Ryan Verret. He and his wife, Mary-Rose, are regular participants with their five children ages 2 to 11. The Verrets are founders of Witness to Love: Marriage Preparation Renewal Ministry. “It’s extremely important for the family to express the faith,” Ryan told the Register. “Pope Francis has asked families to become missionary outposts of the life of the Church. The family actively participating in things in society helps to express the gifts that marriage is.”
Mary-Rose added that “this is a beautiful celebration of all that is true and good of the family and the faith” — especially during this special year in the Church.
Since this is the universal Church’s Year of St. Joseph and the Year of the Family, this unique annual procession every Aug. 15 was held this year in honor of the Christian family and for the sanctification and unification of families.
Thousands of people gathered for the opening Mass and then for all the stops the Eucharistic procession made on the banks at all the Catholic churches along the historically significant Bayou Teche.
The Blessed Sacrament led the flotilla, secured on an altar; then, to highlight the Holy Family in this double celebration year, a second boat carried the statue of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and another featured a boat with a statue of St. Joseph.
Father Michael Champagne, superior of the Community of Jesus Crucified and organizer of this event, said a special addition this year was a boat with a ceremonial throne “with the relics from the Holy Family, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth, and relics of married saints like Zélie and Louis Martin.”
Families were encouraged to join the 50-boat procession as a family either in their own boat or by following the route via car to the churches, where the boats stopped for the Rosary and Benediction, after the opening Mass that Bishop Douglas Deshotel of the Diocese of Lafayette celebrated in French at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Leonville.
Afterward, a procession with the Blessed Sacrament and statues of Mary and Joseph went to the nearby dock for Benediction and the start of the boat procession down the Teche toward St. Martinsville, retracing the route the Acadians in the area took 256 years ago.
“It’s definitely a pilgrimage, and they do prayers and blessings at all the original churches built along this waterway,” Mary-Rose said.
“Each community greets the procession as first communicants scatter rose petals.”
All along the Bayou Teche, people in boats, cars and on the shore, as well as shut-ins at home, joined in the prayers and devotions led from the Eucharist boat and broadcast live on the radio.
Kenny and Lisa Schmidt and their family have not missed a year of this pilgrimage. Commenting on this year’s theme, Lisa said, “Especially in the world we live in today, where the family is so splintered, the families that participate are a light to the world to how Jesus wanted the family to look, gathered around him, and also with your brothers and sisters in Christ.”
With this year’s theme of the family, Father Champagne sought to encourage “families pray the family Rosary more and more.” To ignite or reignite that goal, he said at each stop on the route five families — first dads, then moms, then children — led the Rosary to echo Father Patrick Peyton’s admonition, “The family that prayers together stays together.”
Second, this year, families in the lead boat adored Jesus in the Eucharist from city to city. With a number of perpetual adoration chapels around the area, Father Champagne would like to see families inspired by this procession to begin coming to adoration together as family, or at least as a couple.
Third, the fête fell on a Sunday this year, the Lord’s Day. For this reason, Father Champagne encouraged families along the route to set up little altars. “It’s a lesson on “how to restore Sunday as a day of the Lord, a day of the Church, a day of the family.”
Mobile confessionals were ready for the faithful at every stop, too. “It’s renewing people’s faith every year,” explained Deacon Adam Conque of St. Martin de Tours Church in Martinsville. He finds that each fête draws the faithful to confession.
“They are moved by their faith experience to go to confession. And many people on the banks go to confession for the first time in many decades.” He says he and his wife, Marianne, and eight children from 6 months old to 13 always look forward to the fête.
Deacon Conque said it is impressive that many men participate. “All the work attracts men every year to the fêtes,” he said. “During the event a lot of men renew their own vocation to fatherhood and being a husband through this procession.”
Ryan Verret is of similar mind in this Year of St. Joseph. “St. Joseph is protector of the family, and the family is the protector of the domestic church,” he said.
Another major tie-in for this Eucharistic procession connects with the family and Catholic faith. Aug. 15 was the day on which the Acadians, the French-Canadians exiled from Canada because of their Catholic faith, arrived here by boats in 1765. They had originally sailed from France to Nova Scotia under the banner/star of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Father Champagne explained how having a Eucharistic procession by boat on the waters of the Teche rather than by foot makes a lot of sense. “Fête-Dieu du Teche on the feast of the Assumption recalls our rich Acadian history and, in a way, reenacts the journey made by the Acadians” in 1765. Under this title of Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady is patroness of the Acadians and of Acadiana, the section of Louisiana that is home to a large French population of Acadian descent, now also called Cajuns.
“The reason why the Cajuns came here was to exercise our faith, so this event is a great big public witness to the area that our Cajun Catholic faith is at the heart of our Cajun culture,” said Deacon Conque.
“Events like this remind people this is a very Cajun thing to do: to put Jesus on a boat and go down the river.”
The deacon’s parish is where the boat procession ends.
Known as the “Mother Church of the Acadians,” St. Martin de Tours was founded in 1765 by the Acadian exiles when they arrived in what is now Louisiana.
“Here the culture and the faith are really tied into the Church,” emphasized Mary-Rose Verret.
Father Jason Vidrine, pastor of St. Martin de Tours, who has participated in the procession since the beginning, added, “Fête-Dieu du Teche has been a tremendous blessing on several levels. It has helped to increase love and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, to celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption as it should be kept, and to bring awareness to our culture and heritage of love for Our Lady and our holy Catholic faith received from our ancestors.”
Lisa Schmidt agrees. “There is always some kind of grace we get from each pilgrimage,” she said, adding that it proves “very fruitful.”
Some participants have received the grace of conversion or vocation. Sister Marie-Thérèse of the Community of Jesus Crucified, the Schmidts’ daughter, recalls what happened on the very first procession.
“Fête-Dieu du Teche 2015 was a day that seriously affected my vocation. Being a part of a day so centered on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and his most Blessed Mother on the feast of the Assumption rocked my world. The fête is such a visible, public manifestation of the faith, but a lot goes on in the secret recesses of the heart during that grace-filled day.”
The fête proved a major turning point in the faith life of Joey Aucoin, who was then a Baptist. During 17 years of marriage, he would go to church fairly regularly with his wife, Mona, and their children, but he did not understand many Catholic beliefs, especially about Our Lady and the saints. “I didn’t get deep into it,” he said. They became close friends with the Schmidts, and an Aucoin daughter married a Schmidt son.
In 2016, trucks and cars had to replace boats for the fête, and Kenny Schmidt “volunteered” Aucoin to carry one of the two bells that normally would be on the boat.
“I’m not even Catholic,” Aucoin thought at the time. “I’ll go to the first church Mass and then leave. That got changed real quick.” Shortly thereafter Mona told him that his truck was now going to carry the statue of Mary.
“That was God’s way of saying, ‘I’m going to put you on the spot now,’” Aucoin recalled with a chuckle. “Mary was my biggest hang-up.”
The statue of Mary was huge and had to be carried by four people. “The minute we knew that Mary got me at that procession,” he said, was when the altar servers came in to practice lifting the statue and two on the same side started dropping the statue. Someone close by caught the Marian depiction — but from halfway back in the church, Aucoin already had “bolted out of the pew and was making a run to the front, knowing I got to go catch her before she hit the floor … then 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.’”
By the end of the day, Aucoin would not let anyone else carry Our Lady except Kenny Schmidt, who also said, “She got you now.” Aucoin became a Catholic shortly afterward. (Read his conversion story in the companion blog.)
Marianne Conque looks forward to the procession every year: “It reminds and encourages me to keep the faith alive through my children for the next generations.”
The wonderful pageantry “helps the children to see the wonder and majesty of God.” She hopes this idea can be adapted in different ways around the country. “Every area has some kind of culture they can keep alive where the faith exists and bring that something prayerfully for the community.”
For now, Fête-Dieu du Teche shows how faith can impact a local community.
As Mary-Rose Verret said, “It’s one of the most powerful expressions of the faith and family in the United States.”