'The Chapel' Rises Again

Lyle Johnson
This is worth the ride. The statue of Mary inside the hollowed out cypress tree. All photos courtesy of Our Lady of Blind River Chapel

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m getting older or I just didn’t notice it in my younger days, but Blind River is beautiful. I enjoy seeing it as much as fishing there, which has happened many times over in my 66 years.

Blind River is all swamp. Before the levee, its origin started at the Mississippi River in St. James parish and flowed out to Lake Maurepas. The banks are lined with a mix of cypress and tupelo gum all the way to the lake. Blind River has been designated as aNatural and Scenic River in Louisiana because of its beauty.

Along with the layout of the land come the birds, animals and fish that might be encountered. White herons are easily seen either wading in the water looking for an easy snack or slowly flying out of a big cypress tree all along the way.

Alligators are pretty a common sight if you can be just a little quiet, as the population has expanded quite well. Nutrias as well as an occasional coon or squirrel dot the trees along the way.

Another of the long-time attractions along the river is the Our Lady of Blind River chapel. It’s nestled among the cypress trees along the bank a few miles downriver from the St. James Boat Club. Adding to its charm is it can only be reached by boat.

So on Easter Sunday of 1983, Martha and Bobby Deroche took on a project to build a chapel after Martha had a vision of Jesus on a rock. That vision, Martha told Bobby, was Jesus saying that she needed to build a church there. So on that Easter Sunday, Martha and Bobby DeRoche, with the help of family and friends, began building “Our Lady of Blind River Chapel.”

Bobby was a carpenter, so he and those friends got to work on the construction project.

It became a community project as neighbors and friends helped him turn Martha's vision into reality.

Besides doing the normal construction of a building, many personal touches were included. The pews were hand-carved from cypress trees, and the shingles were made by hand, chiseled from cypress boards as well.

There is a statue in the center of the chapel of the Virgin Mary. She is standing inside of a large cypress tree that was hollowed after being pulled from the swamp. The interior walls are decorated with paintings of Jesus and other religious scenes, rosaries and crosses.

The construction of the chapel was finished in August 1983 and opened for visitors. It’s been the home of weddings, visitors from as far away as Israel and England. Martha would usually be there to greet the visitors. Armed with a smile, she’d ask them if they wanted her to pray for them or if they wanted to write out a special prayer.

Martha and her husband, Bobby, have since passed away. Through the years with the passing of time, flooding many times and exposure to the elements have damaged the structure. It had to be closed for a couple of years over safety concerns.

In August 2016, "Our Lady of Blind River" didn't escape the rising water from the flooding that affected so many people in Louisiana. The families first ride down the river to see the damage was heartbreaking. With two feet of water in the Chapel and the dock underwater, it was obvious that major repairs would be needed.

In June 2017, Tropical Storm Cindy dealt the chapel another blow. Thankfully the inside of the Chapel was spared, but what was left of the dock that could have been saved could no longer be used.

Much in the same fashion that Martha DeRoche had a vision to build the chapel so her grandson, Lance Weber has a vision to restore the chapel to its former greatness and more.

So just like Jesus was raised from the dead in His resurrection, the chapel was started on Easter Sunday, another resurrection began on Good Friday on Blind River. “The Chapel” was raised six feet to avoid flooding in the future!

It took a couple of Schexnaydre families and friends of the Weber’s once again for the “raising.” Troy Schexnayder(er) and his family arranged with Kent Schexnaydre(re) of Schexnayder’s Restoration to perform the job of lifting the chapel. They’re related down the line but the last name is spelled different.

On Good Friday (No coincidence) once again family and friends came together to help Lance Weber lift the Chapel, which now stands 6ft off the ground. Mr. Kent Schexnaydre & his crew (Dwain Swindle, Almir Nuti, Nazarco Lopez, and Ever Sandoval) did the heavy lifting.

Family and friends that did the grunt work included Jed LeBlanc; Joe Duhe; Kirk DeRoche; Pat Keller; and Laci & Seth Rose for donating your time, skills, materials, and hard work. Words cannot express how much this means to me, Lance, and our family!

Now that the raising is done, a stairway needs to be constructed, so it will be about two months before the chapel will be open to the public again. One of the goals is to rebuild the dock larger so that it is easier for the bigger boats to dock Additional work that is needed to the Chapel is as follows: redo all electrical work, redo flooring, paint the trim, columns, and inside, and put new shingles on the roof, outside walls, and steeple.

"Our Lady of Blind River" will continue to have visitors, from the locals who stop by on their way to enjoy a day on the river to the many people from different states and countries that make a special trip to pray to "Our Lady of Blind River."

Many people have asked, "How can I help?" this is how. For more information, updates, and other ways you can donate you can follow/join our two Facebook pages: Our Lady of Blind River or Friends of Our Lady of Blind River.

Take a look at their Facebook pages and think about getting involved if you can and become a part of a special, God inspired project. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard, be safe in the outdoors and may God truly bless you.