Clarence Mallett, a parishioner at St. Margaret's Church, had a vision of reviving an Old World tradition that began centuries ago in Mediterranean fishing communities, when fishermen received a blessing from the local priest that was meant to insure a safe and bountiful season. His dream came true when St. Margaret's first fleet blessing began in 1949.
Father Alex O'Neill, the pastor at St. Margaret's, used blessed bayou water and walked along the docks at the Bayou Ice Company blessing each boat as he passed. There was no parade of boats at that time and only a few prizes were given. The boat parades began about two years later, when prizes were collected from local merchants and awarded to the best decorated boats in different categories. Delicious boiled bayou-shrimp dinners were served by the ladies of the parish to visitors.
Today, the Archbishop of the Diocese and other clergy board a boat and position themselves on the bowto lower a wreath into the bayou as a remembrance to those lost at sea. Then they continue down the bayou blessing the parading vessels and those docked along the parade route. Prizes are awarded to the decorated boats by category.
Each pastor at St. Margaret's Church has added a special touch to make the Blessing of the Fleet a spectacular event. Fleet Blessing day begins with a Mass, followed by a land parade, presentation of the Queen and Court, boat parade and boat blessing. The church grounds are full of vendors and activities for the entire family. The seafood dinners, boiled shrimp and gumbo are still served, along with a variety of foods including Vietnamese and Mexican.
The continued success of this event remains with the many families of St. Margaret's parish and the surrounding community who work so hard each year to keep this dream alive. The Fleet Blessing with its delicious seafood dinners and gumbo is a tourist attraction as well as a community event that people in the city of Bayou La Batre, Alabama look forward to each year.
St. Margaret's Catholic Church is located thirty miles southwest of Mobile. Bayou La Batre received its name for Iberville, the older brother Bienville, the first governer of Louisiana."
The first permanent settler in this village was Joseph Bosarge who came to Bayou La Batre in 1786, with his family. Joseph Bosarge petitioned the Spanish governer of Louisiana, Stephen Mire, in October 1786 for a tract of land on the est bank of the river. The petition was granted the following month and Joseph Bosarge, his sickly wife and seven children established their home on the property.
The first priest visited the area in 1832. His name was Father Gabriel Chalon. Then, in 1836 Father Mathias Loras came to the Bayou and administered to the religious needs of the inhabitants.
In 1905, Father Edward M. Shea was appointed the resident pastor of St. Margaret's. The church was on Cedar Point Road in Coden. This building was completely destroyed by the 1906 hurricane. St. Margaret's was established as a parish in Bayou La Batre in 1906. The corner stone for the present church building was laid on February 16, 1908 by Right Reverend Edward P. Allen, Bishop of Diocese of Mobile.
In 1927 the school and convent was built with Sisters of Mercy in charge. A high school was added in 1931.
Sisters of St. Dominic came to The Bayou in 1940. The high school was closed in 1959 and in 1990 the grade school closed after serving generations of children in the area providing them with an excellent education and moral formation.
In 2002, the convent building became the church rectory
In 1949, Clarence Mallet convinced Father Alex O'Neil to hold the first Blessing of the Fleet. The old world custom is a public acknowledgement of God and His blessing is asked for a bountiful harvest and the safety of the men who go to the sea.
In 1976, the church was renovated by Rev. Msgr. Thomas J. Cullen. Beautiful stained glass windows were acquired from Daughters of Charity by Bishop May. The windows were originally in the Hotel Dieu in new Orleans, a hospital operated by the Daughters of Charity. The windows were installed in St. Margaret's Church. Bishop John L. May called it "Little Basilica".
Over the years, Hurricane Camille in 1969, Hurricane Frederic in 1979, Hurricane George in 1997 and others have damaged the church and buildings on the grounds. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated St. Margaret's Church and all buildings in the complex.
On February 3, 2008, we celebrated the Centennial of St. Margaret's Church. St. Margaret's has been blessed many times over the years. The heritage of St. Margaret's Parish is a proud one with a wonderful history left for us by early settlers.