Our Lady of Blind River, a one-room chapel in the swamps of St. James Parish, was born from one woman’s vision of God.

By Meghan Overdeep
May 9, 2019

Halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, among the gum and cypress trees that line the twists and turns of Blind River, you’ll find a one-room chapel born from one woman’s vision of God.

Martha Deroch and her husband Bobby built Our Lady of Blind River in 1983 after Martha had a vision of Jesus kneeling by a rock—a vision she interpreted as Jesus telling her to build a church right there in the swamp.

The whole community came together to make the little chapel happen, constructing almost the entire thing from cypress. They raised a roof and a steeple, carved pews from cypress trees, and hand-chiseled the shingles from cypress as well. The centerpiece of the chapel is a statue of the Virgin Mary standing inside a hollowed-out cypress tree salvaged from the swamp, the Associated Press reports.

In the years that followed, Our Lady of Blind River has hosted weddings and visitors from around the world. It’s become a spiritual haven for boaters, kayakers, hunters, and fishermen on a river named for the bends that make it impossible to see around the next corner.

“Only way you can get here is by boat,” Martha’s daughter Pat Hymel told the AP. “I think that’s why it was so special to a lot of people ... being out in nature, way out in an area of such beauty.”

Bobby Deroche died in 2012, followed by Martha the next year. Now, Pat’s son Lance Weber, who lives next door, is taking care of the chapel.  But the Louisiana weather has not been kind to the little chapel, and nature seems determined to reclaim it.

The chapel has flooded repeatedly and needs extensive repair work. Lance has been forced to keep the chapel closed to most visitors due to safety concerns for the past two years. But he’s determined to preserve the place he grew up visiting as a child.

Last summer he built a new boat dock with donated materials, and he’s mounted support posts that he will raise the chapel on to protect it from future floods, the AP reports.

Lance said that he’s noticed some changes in the swamp over the decades.  Waves from boat traffic have eroded the tree line and widened the channel, but otherwise, he told the AP that Our Lady of Blind River is the same as it was when his grandparents built it.

“Now that I’m older, I’m trying to preserve it for my kids and their kids and grandkids and everything else,” he said.

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