Parish pioneers celebrate 40th anniversary

By Joanna King and Tereza Ma
GLOSTER – Families gathered to celebrate a relatively “new” church in the history of the diocese on Saturday, Sept. 9 at Holy Family in Gloster. Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Father Anthonyclaret Onyeocha and several of the founding families gathered for a special Mass in celebration of 40 years of the “young” parish.

In 1983, the few Catholics of Amite County were scattered but one woman had a dream to bring them together.

June Vallely moved to Gloster in 1980, she and her husband Bill, along with their five children had to travel over 23 miles away to St. Joseph in Woodville for Mass.

“Trying to get the kids ready, get them up, feed them, get them ready to go to church … it was hard work,” said Vallely.

GLOSTER – June Vallely displays her plaque presented to her for her contributions to the Holy Family parish in Gloster. On left, the tabernacle sits behind the altar at Holy Family parish. It was donated to the fledgling parish in 1983 from a church in Illinois. (Photos by Tereza Ma)

“So, I started asking around in the community if there were any Catholics, or did they know of a Catholic.”
From that, Vallely began making a list; making it her mission to establish a Catholic Church in Amite County.

“Something was just pushing me and pushing me,” said Valley.

Then it hit like lightening.

One night in the middle of a thunderstorm, Vallely shot up from a slumber and went to the kitchen table and began to write.

Father Anthonyclaret Onyeocha and Bishop Joseph Kopacz process out after Mass at Holy Family parish in Gloster on Saturday, Sept. 23 for the 40th anniversary of the parish.

“I started writing this letter to the Bishop. The words kept coming out.”

A couple of months later, Bishop Brunini gave permission for a church building in the small Catholic community in Gloster. The name Holy Family was even drawn from a brown paper bag. Everyone at Mass that given Sunday submitted a name and the youngest member of the church, Jason Chabreck, drew the name.

With the assistance of Sister Margaret Maria Coon, a retired college philosophy teacher and former provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth of Kentucky, who had retired to the area, the fledgling congregation began to take shape.

The first location was an old store front on Main Street, the walls of which were covered in burlap to cover large holes.

“Our first altar was a kitchen cabinet from one of our parishioners,” said Vallely, reminiscing.

Other first items were a brass crucifix from an army surplus story, a baptismal font from a Methodist church in Crosby, a tabernacle from a Catholic Church in Illinois and various hand-me-downs from other parishes across the diocese. It didn’t matter where the items came from, the founding families were happy to have a church of their own for their growing community.

June Vallely visits with Bishop Kopacz and Pauline Gauthier after Mass, about her history with the parish. Vallely and other founding members were present for the 40th anniversary celebration of Holy Family Gloster.

To fundraise families would hold dinners on Fridays during Lent, serving Cajun delicacies such as jambalaya and shrimp etouffee. Parishioners would take orders from the area, including Liberty, Woodville, Centreville and Gloster. Each week earning $1,000 or more for their young parish.

“It was lots of fun,” said Vallely. “We loved bringing the whole community together.”

Michele Chabrek was also of one of the founding families of Holy Family. Along with Vallely, she is one of the only remaining families from the beginning of the parish.

“Through hard work and faith, we’ve managed to come together and provide for the community and any of our spiritual needs.”

At the 40th anniversary celebration, Vallely was recognized for her contributions to the history of the parish with a special plaque.

“We wanted to do something special for June to let her know all of her hard work did not go to waste,” said Pauline Gauthier, a resident of Gloster for 36 years.

“We’re not a big parish or big community, but those of us that are here – we’re family.”