Natchez pastor discovers mother, daughter in basement of basilica

By Fabvienen Taylor
Catholic News Service

NATCHEZ, Miss. (CNS) -- The sound of someone playing the piano in the basement of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez caught Father David O'Connor's attention Sept. 8.

"No one was supposed to be there so I went to investigate," said the pastor.

He found Babbette Delafont, 42, and her 11-year-old daughter, Bridgette, at the piano.

At the sight of the priest, Babbette Delafont started crying. "I told Father O'Connor everything," she said. "He then got on the telephone and started calling people."

From their initial conversation, Father O'Connor, who also is pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Natchez, learned that the mother and daughter were hurricane victims from Harahan, La., and had spent much of their day just walking along the downtown streets.

"They had left their home in Louisiana escaping Hurricane Katrina and had a place to stay with a cousin in town but they had not connected with any services, had no identification, no transportation and were looking for help," the priest told the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Jackson Diocese.

They had been to Natchez's main shelter but left because it was overcrowded. As they walked near the basilica, Bridgette noticed an elevator on the side of the building. "I told Mom we should get on it," she said.

The elevator took them to the basement of the basilica, which was empty. "We saw the baskets and a sign about dropping off clothes. We saw the kitchen, the library and then the piano," said Babbette Delafont.

They sat at the piano and Babbette started softly playing a sad tune, "Color My World."

"Then Bridgette pointed to a statue of Mary with her foot on a snake and we laughed and I started playing a happier song really loud," said her mother. "That's when Father O'Connor came in."

Within 24 hours Bridgette was registered in the fifth grade at Cathedral Elementary School.

"It's the only thing right now keeping me up," said Bridgette, whose favorite subject is social studies. "I'm looking forward to it."

After talking to the mother and daughter, Father O'Connor took them to the rectory where they met Dr. Charles Nolan and his wife, Gayle, who had been staying at the rectory after being displaced by the storm.

"The Nolans were so sweet to us," said Babbette Delafont. The next day the couple drove the Delafonts to Cathedral Elementary where they met the principal, Kate Cole.

As she registered her daughter, Babbette Delafont said, another parent came up to them offering to help. "She took us and bought some outfits for Bridgette, including two school uniforms, and insisted on buying me some clothes, too."

Until she finds a job, Babbette Delafont has offered to help out at the school. With no transportation, she doesn't know when or if she and her daughter, who are Catholic, can return home.

At Cathedral Elementary, which enrolls students in preschool to sixth grade, Bridgette is one of nearly 100 displaced students enrolled in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Another 40 new students registered at Cathedral Middle/High School.

"They had started coming by on the Friday before the (Labor Day) holiday," said Cole. "We just had no idea of the magnitude."

Her teachers supported her in accepting the new students, said Cole. "They said we have got to do this, the students need to be back in the routine of school, back to some normalcy in their lives. That frees the parents to do what they need to do."

As of Sept. 19, more than 400 new students had entered Catholic schools in the Diocese of Jackson.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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