Sheena Candies has fond memories of growing up in Des Allemands and attending the Catfish Festival every year.
“I have been a life-long parishioner of St. Gertrude,” she said. “I used to work the festival with my family growing up. I remember I used to walk to the festival because my parents lived just a few blocks away. I remember Friday night being ride night back in the day when we were growing up, and then Saturday the game booths and the food booths would open up and I would sit back there and just listen to the bands and just admire how great this little town was.”
Candies reigned as one of the festival queens in 2015.
“But after 2015 there were no queens to represent the festival, so I took it upon myself to become that voice for the festival,” Candies, who now helps to organize and promote the annual event, said.
In 1975 Rev. William McCallion founded the Catfish Festival as a fundraiser for St. Gertrude the Great Catholic Church and to stimulate the local economy. In the decades following, the festival grew into one of the area’s most popular attractions. In 1975, Gov. Edwin Edwards signed a proclamation declaring Des Allemands the Catfish Capital of the World, and in 1980 the state legislature passed a resolution naming it the Catfish Capital of the Universe.
The church was set to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the festival in 2020, but the pandemic cancelled that celebration. To make up for lost revenue – the festival brought in an average of $40,000 a year – local parishioners including Candies have pivoted to organizing craft fairs to keep the church afloat.
“The festival was the biggest income for the church,” Candies said. “2019 was probably one of our best years ever in a while. We ended that year on a good note, and we were on track to have a really successful 2020 festival.”
The accumulation of corporate sponsors, as well as the volume of residents and visitors who supported the festival, meant revenue from the festival weekend supported the church all year long.
Candies said the uncertainties surrounding how coronavirus restrictions would be in June, when the festival is usually held, meant there is no time to now plan a festival for this year.
“There will be no festival as we know it, but there are some things in the works that are being discussed,” she said. “But it will be something completely different in 2021. It takes months to prepare for the festival. We have to order food and book bands … as soon as the festival ends one year we’re typically planning for the next year. The restrictions didn’t get lifted until recently, and there are a lot of people who are still fearing getting out, so we are just thinking about a smaller event.”
Candies said regardless of what event may or may not be held in lieu of the festival, she and others have started to more organize crafts fairs at the church in order to help bolster the budget and make up for the lost revenue.
“We’ve been trying to do little things here and there to make up for the money,” she said. “We can’t say that the fest will never happen again. We never know what the future will hold. We’re hoping eventually we can get back to a three day festival and enjoy it as we knew it.”
Candies said plans are to host a large craft show twice a year, with the next planned for Nov. 27.
For more information on upcoming events at the church, visit its Facebook page.