Pastor follows dreams to Ferriday Catholic church

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; His years of living outside the priesthood proved useful when, at age 29, he entered Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, said the Rev. Louis Sklar, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Ferriday and St. Gerard in Jonesville.

Indeed, Sklar can reach back into his childhood to see the priest taking shape.

&8220;I was raised in a household where it was encouraged at least as something to consider,&8221; he said. &8220;Parents today do not want to surrender their children.&8221;

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Sklar grew up on a family cattle ranch, working there until he was 16. During college, he paid his tuition by working as a bar tender and restaurant manager.

&8220;I was very shy and introverted,&8221; he said. &8220;Those jobs helped me to become more extroverted.&8221;

In time, he joined Farm Bureau as an insurance agent. &8220;I had 350 families. I knew all about them,&8221; he said. He realized how fulfilling it was to care for people in time of need.

Those experiences deepened his desire to go to seminary, he said. And now the experiences help him to understand his parishioners.

The five years at seminary gave him opportunity to study hospital chaplain ministry and to travel to Nicaragua for mission work in addition to his other work.

He was in Echo, La., before moving to Ferriday in October, only weeks after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

&8220;I found a lot of people who were refugees, many of them in their camper trailers,&8221; he said. &8220;It was a gift to be able to take care of them but also just to hear their stories.&8221;

Sklar works in all of Catahoula and about 70 percent of Concordia parishes. &8220;When I came here, I had no idea what I had accepted. It&8217;s a parish that is phenomenal,&8221; he said. &8220;People are dedicated to their parish and their Mass.&8221;

He has learned his way to the outer limits of the parish &8212; Larto, Sicily Island, Shaw, Black Hawk, Acme and Monterey, for example.

&8220;My first two months, I said there is no way to get there. Now, I&8217;m down to learning the dirt roads and pig trails,&8221; he said. &8220;And I&8217;ve been welcomed in so many ways and in so many places.&8221;

He likes to stop in convenience stores for a Diet Coke and peanuts, stand around and talk to the folks there and wait for them to notice that he is a priest.

&8220;When they bring it up, then I&8217;ll ask them if they know any Catholics in the area,&8221; he said. &8220;These are easy places to be and easy to step into.&8221;

Serving as a priest in a rural parish was his dream in seminary, Sklar said. &8220;I&8217;m living my dream.&8221;

A friend in seminary gave him a motto he remembers often. &8220;We have to meet people where they are &8216;at.&8217;&8221; He recalled an English teacher who would have disapproved of the sentence.

&8220;But quite often we do find people between the a and the t. People are everywhere, and we have to go out and meet them and to bring them Christ in the gospel and in the sacraments,&8221; he said.

There are no dull days in his work. &8220;We laugh together and cry together. They have been here a long time. I&8217;m here for a while for this part of their journey,&8221; he said.

&8220;They take care of each other. It&8217;s an honor and a privilege as a priest to lead them.&8221;

Ferriday is home for him now. He sees a great future for Ferriday through the people he has come to know.

In the church, he urges families to bring babies along, even to sit on the front row with them. &8220;I say bring the babies to the front. I want to hear them. That&8217;s the sound of the future.&8221;