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Thirty years ago, a retired couple who lived on Blind River in St. James Parish decided that their isolated wilderness needed its own place of worship. It started with one woman's divine vision. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us on a boat ride to Our Lady of Blind River in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.
The Blind River twists its way through the forested swamps that drain into Lake Maurepas. It's home to weekend boaters and those who prefer the isolation of camps accessible only by boat. And it was home to Patricia Hymel's parents - Bobby and Martha Deroche.
"When he retired from Kaiser, he decided he wanted to live on the river, so they came and moved on the river," Hymel said. "They lived here for 24 years."
But one thing was missing for Martha.
"She is a very faithful woman, very spiritual woman, and she always wanted a little place to pray," Hymel said.
Martha got her place to pray, next door to her home on Blind River.
"And one night she had a vision of Jesus kneeling by the rock," Hymel recalled. "And she told my dad, she said, ‘I had a vision of Jesus kneeling by the rock.' And she said, ‘I think he's trying to tell me something - upon this rock you shall build a church.'"
So with the help of about three dozen friends and six months of hard labor, they built that church and named it Our Lady of Blind River.
The volunteers who built this chapel found old sinker cypress logs along the river and they hand-cut 2,000 wooden shingles that they used to cover the walls and the steeple of this building.
"Everything was all by hand," Hymel said. "That cypress tree was found in the swamp. It was hit by lightning. What they did, they got the part that was still good that wasn't, you know, burned by the lightning, and they floated it down over here on the river."
The hollow cypress stump became a grotto that holds the statue of Our Lady of Blind River.
"And they dedicated the chapel Aug. 21, 1983," Hymel said. "And a priest came here, and they had a dedication. He blessed the chapel and everything."
In the 30 years that followed, the chapel has survived hurricanes and floods, and has always welcomed visitors to dock their boats and come inside. Guest books have been filled with thousands of names from around the world.
Anna Maguire of Garyville brought a friend from Atlanta.
"It's peaceful," Maguire said. "This is actually the second time this year. We've been in years past, and it's beautiful. It's never wavered; It's never died."
Bobby and Martha Deroche both died last year. Now their children and grandchildren take care of the chapel.
"And that's what she always did say – ‘Please keep it in the family, y'all tend to it make sure everything is proper with it,'" Hymel said.
Our Lady of Blind River is part of the landscape of trees and birds, moss and flowers, water and fish that draw people to this piece of swampy wilderness, where one woman's vision still invites visitors to pause, and reflect, and pray.
The Blind River Chapel is a 7-mile boat ride from the St. James Boat Club launch on Airline Highway near Gramercy.
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