The Rev. Arthur 'Red' Ginart, 1941-2005
Legend has it that St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of mariners, once prayed over a fierce storm and calmed the roiling waters for a group of seamen. During four decades of hurricane seasons, it often seemed he was doing the same for the Rev. Arthur "Red" Ginart, pastor of St. Nicholas of Myra Church on Lake Catherine.
"Every hurricane we ever had, he never left," former parishioner Lorraine Hagen said. "He would say, 'This is my place; I have to stay.'"
Ginart grew up in the Bywater, the son of immigrants -- his mother was Irish and his father a French jeweler who died when the boy was 2. By the time he was 10, his mother had remarried and young Arthur was sent off to Covington to live at St. Benedict's boys' home.
"He was . . . I guess 'mischievous' is the word for it," said his nephew, Michael Ginart.
Arthur "had a powerful calling at St. Ben's," Michael said, and went straight from there to study for the priesthood at nearby St. Joseph Abbey.
After a stint at Christ the King in Terrytown, he was assigned to St. Nicholas of Myra, a nondescript church that blended inconspicuously among the recreational and residential camps of the Lake Catherine community, a nine-mile peninsula bounded by Lake Pontchartrain to the north and Catherine to the south.
Ginart put his gregarious, people-loving stamp on the parish, becoming legendary -- and beloved -- for his plainspoken sermons and half-hour Masses.
"He was something else," parishioner Jan Parr said. "He could say more in four or five minutes than most priests could say in half an hour."
Ginart would say he liked to get Mass over with so that he could have more time to talk to church-goers afterward.
"He just loved people," Michael Ginart said.
Frequent topics of conversation included the fire department -- Ginart, whose firefighter brother died on the job, was a volunteer fireman and fire department chaplain -- and the New Orleans Saints. His devotion to the team was so great, he once renamed the drive leading into the church "Saints Avenue," and an adjoining street "Who Dat Lane," Hagen said.
"One time," she said, "when they were in the middle of a real bad season, he started Mass by walking down the aisle with a bag over his head."
Ginart "loved living in the simple atmosphere of the St. Catherine area," Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes said. He loved it too much to evacuate after saying Mass on Aug. 28, despite the pleas of church-goers, friends and relatives.
Like most of the homes on Lake Catherine, the trailer next to the church where Ginart lived is gone. On Nov. 22 at 11 a.m., Hughes will stand on what remains of St. Nicholas of Myra -- a concrete slab and parts of its wooden frame -- and memorialize "Father Red," whose body has not been found but is presumed to have been picked up by Katrina's tidal surge and washed out to sea.
"We begged him to leave," Hagen said. "He always said, 'When it's my time, it's my time.' I guess his time was now."
Published in The Times-Picayune