Teacher hopes photos can help save old Luling church

February 18, 2009 at 10:27 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Rhitt Growl, a facilitator at the Satellite Center, wants to sell photos like this one to help with the old Luling church’s restoration. He also believes the church could be turned into an interactive parish museum - with a little help from the Satellite
Rhitt Growl, a facilitator at the Satellite Center, wants to sell photos like this one to help with the old Luling church’s restoration. He also believes the church could be turned into an interactive parish museum - with a little help from the Satellite
With the fate of the old Luling church still undecided, one local teacher hopes to use photos of the historic landmark to raise money for the buildings restoration.

Rhitt Growl, the digital media facilitator at the Satellite Center, first fell in love with the old church back in high school when he took part in former Hahnville teacher Lloyd Sensat’s Education Through Historic Preservation program. Through art, Growl was given the opportunity to not only learn about the historical architectural landmarks in and around the area, but to develop an appreciation for them.

“Since then, I have always been drawn to the old church,” Growl said. “There is something about the stucco facade, the curved lines, the bell tower, the detailed sculptures over the doorway and the decoration on the tops of the columns.
“There’s no other building like it around here.”

Church’s roots stretch back to 1877
The former St. Anthony of Padua Church has had a varied life, and at one time or the other, has served as a church, a kindergarten center, a book depository, a warehouse and a carpentry shop.

The church’s roots stretch back to 1877, when Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary was built to serve residents on the west bank. Mission chapels were then erected in Luling, Ama and Des Allemands. In 1902, Luling residents began to attend mass in a frame building off of what is now Easy Street. In 1926, the frame building on Easy Street was replaced by a sturdier structure on Ellington Street.

The church was still a mission of Holy Rosary until July 1, 1961, when Fr. Gerald Barrett was appointed the first pastor of the newly created parish of St. Anthony of Padua.
When the old Luling Elementary School was running out of room to house students and supplies, the St. Charles Parish School Board purchased the church in 1974 and has put it to use throughout the years. Last October, the school system finally stopped using the building because of an engineering survey that called into question the building’s structural soundness. John Rome, the school system’s physical plant services administrator, also said that mold and mildew are present in the former church and that part of the foundation is decaying.

Photos for restoration
Growl, who is a life-long Luling resident, was contacted by a fellow artist, Riece Walton, and asked to take photos of the old church so that Walton could use them as a reference for a painting. Growl headed out to the church on a nice day and took close to 200 shots.

“A few weeks later I received an e-mail from Lloyd Sensat with articles about the fate of the church,” Growl said. “At that point, I decided to put the photos up for sale and give the proceeds to the church’s restoration.”

Some of the photos Growl took are “artistically” done, while others are just regular pictures of the whole church.

“All of the pictures are of the outside of the church and some focus on the whole building while others just show the detail of the architecture, windows, entrance way and decoration of the columns,” Growl said. “Because of the architectural style of the building and the angles of some of the shots, viewers may be led to believe that they are looking at pictures taken in Spain or Mexico when in fact they were taken in Luling.”

Growl does not have a uniform price for the photos because it all depends on the size of the individual photo, whether it is framed and if Growl digitally altered the picture to enhance the look.

Technology to turn building into museum
But aside from the photos, Growl also has a unique idea on how the building could be used in the future.

“I would like to see it turned into a welcome center/museum for the parish,” he said. “I could easily see some of the classes at the Satellite Center working on visuals, graphics, interactive media and videos to showcase a living history of the parish.

“The team members from our hotel, restaurant, and tourism management class could serve as tour guides or be responsible for running the museum.”

Growl also said that talented drama students could reenact historical events and teachers in the area could use the center as a resource for introducing younger children to the area they live in.

“The educational possibilities are endless,” Growl said. “It would be great to use technology to draw in younger kids, but have enough static displays that would appeal to an older generation.”

Plus, Growl points out that the old church is also in a pretty good location.

“It is in walking distance of the levee and Monsanto Park,” he said. “If the top of the levee was ever paved, I could easily see families riding bikes on the levee, taking a detour to the museum, and then proceeding to the park for a fun day. There is also a vacant lot across the street where the old Luling Elementary School used to be located that could be used for parking.”

Growl would love for his idea to take flight, but he is for anything that preserves the old church and keeps it as a part of the community.

“It is a look into the past of St. Charles Parish and a part of this community’s history,” he said. “Aside from the plantations, what other historical landmarks do we have?”

For more information on the photos, e-mail Growl at rgrowl@satellite.stcharles.k12.la.us

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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