PIERRE PART, LA (WVUE) - Pierre Part sits on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin, nearly surrounded by water. For generations, the water has supported the people who live there. But at times, it's also challenged their way of life.
"Hard-working. They know what it is to make sacrifice, and to live here comes with sacrifice. The island means everything to these people," said Fr. Al Davidson.
The island is this tiny spot of land across the bayou from St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church. The town was swallowed by a flood in the late 1800s, but in the ruins of their church, parishioners found a small statue of Mary that was undamaged.
"A priest by the name of Father Pillian put a statue on the island with a wooden cross that said 'oh Marie protégé nu,' which translates 'oh Mary protect us.' And it was the saying at that time that as long as the water will not touch the Virgin's feet, we will be spared," said Ray Crochet.
Ray and Bessie Crochet have been part of ongoing efforts to improve the island.
"Everyone who does come, we have many friends who come and they are just in awe of the beauty and the serenity of this area," Bessie said.
The original small statue of Mary was placed on this island in 1902. A few years later it was buried here and then replaced with a much larger statue.
Over the years, church members have added a bulkhead to stop erosion. And they enlarged the gazebo and added a walking rosary. Twice a year, in May and October, a mass is held on the island.
The faithful come on foot, and they arrive by boat. They fill the island and worship on both sides of the bayou at this special Mass. This island has been a source of strength and protection for the Catholics of Pierre Part during the great floods, a deadly tornado in 1940, the threat of hurricanes and the springtime rise in water levels.
I remember my great, great aunts coming here," Ray said. So to them, this was a reverent piece of property."
"Yes, I do think that Mary does keep an eye on us," Bessie said.
On most afternoons, church members assemble on the island to pray. It's a part of their daily life.
"She has been faithful to them, and they return that faith," said Fr. Davidson. "Mary being here is like the rock of the community."
In a community that is so vulnerable to the whims of nature, Catholics turn this tiny island for divine protection.