Several Los Angeles high school students from the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) Youth Theology Institute were recently treated to a unique religious experience at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Baldwin Hills.
LMU sponsors the five-day Youth Theology Institute, which focuses on leadership and theology. The institute allows youth to explore their leadership potential and spirituality by using the resources of Roman Catholicism and other religious traditions.
As part of the institute, the students visited St. Bernadette. According to Parish Life Director Deacon Jim Carper, the theme of the event was Creole-based, but the purpose was for students to experience African American culture in a diverse Christian setting.
“First, the students were treated to a brief tour of St. Bernadette Church, which boasts of several beautiful stained-glass windows. Then they were whisked off to the parish hall where they were greeted by authentic Zydeco music from a live band, David Sousa and the Mud Bugs,” said Carper.
Senior members of St. Bernadette contributed by decorating the hall a day earlier. With Pat Botshekan serving as emcee, many seniors, such as parishioner Carolyn James, shared memories of growing up in New Orleans with the students. Also, the young people enjoyed a creole lunch of Jambalaya, rice, garlic bread, salad and sweet tea, topped off by Ms. Elsie’s hand-made pralines.
Closing out the program was Roland Davidson’s description of the “Second Line,” a New Orleans tradition. “The main line or first line is the main section of the parade, usually the actual group with the parade permit, as well as the brass band,” explained Davidson.
“Those who follow the band, just to dance and enjoy the music are called the second line. In the tradition of the second line, participants walk and sometimes twirl parasols or wave handkerchiefs in the air,” he said.
The Youth Theology Institute operates under LMU’s Department of Theology. Audrey Harris, a St. Bernadette member and LMU alumna, is the project coordinator.
“What St. Bernadette did for this regional group of high school folks was amazing. They experienced the sights, smells, taste, sound and the faith of New Orleans African-American Creole Culture right here in Los Angeles,” said Dr. Daniel Smith-Christopher, LMU theology professor and Department of Theology special projects coordinator.
“It helped our students understand what a wonderful mosaic of traditions and cultures that they can experience right here in Southern California – but they also learned firsthand what a precious treasure the people of St. Bernadette are – a treasure for all of us here in Los Angeles! What a marvelous gathering of people and tradition.”