Mary Ann Ciravolo soothed brides at St. John the Baptist
Published on Friday, 28 September 2012
Written by Christine Bordelon
Anyone who was married after Hurricane Katrina at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church – the gold-domed church visible from the I-10 across from the Superdome – collaborated with Mary Ann Ciravolo.
Ciravolo was the volunteer wedding coordinator for the downtown church until just before her death in 2011. Ciravolo handled more than 150 weddings (and rehearsals) and a dozen or so funerals with assistance from her husband John who performed security and parking duties; sister Mae Webb who assisted priests; son Leighton who handled the lighting and sound system; and daughter Lisa as her go-to person.
Every wedding was an adventure, John Ciravolo said, with brides making last-minute changes on the wedding day. Yet, Mary Ann Ciravolo knew how to adjust and please brides within the confines of a Catholic Church wedding.
“Mary Ann devoted herself to making each bride’s wedding day as perfect as possible,” John Ciravolo said. “My wife, God love her, would try to accommodate them as best she could. People have different ideas, and we had to emphasize to them that this is a church.”
Why she loved St. John
Her passion for St. John the Baptist derived from growing up in the parish, graduating from eighth grade there in 1953 and being taught by Dominican nuns there and at St. Mary’s Dominican High School.
The Ciravolos often attended Mass at St. John the Baptist, even after moving to the West Bank where they raised their children. About 15 years ago, they became more active at St. John the Baptist, and about three years before Hurricane Katrina, the Ciravolos sold monthly raffle tickets for St. John the Baptist Repair and Restoration Fund. After Katrina, they assumed wedding, funeral and special event coordination. (St. John the Baptist was closed as an archdiocesan parish in 2006 but remains open for weddings, funerals and special events.)
“We just fell into it,” John Ciravolo said about the wedding duty. “The people who did the weddings (before Katrina) scattered to Atlanta and Houston.”
He said the responsibilities of wedding coordination are many, especially at a closed parish. The Ciravolos would arrive two hours before weddings to open the church, turn on the lights and air conditioning and make sure the church was dusted and mopped. They remained about 45 minutes after to close the church and lock the exterior gates.
“At night, we were the last ones to leave,” John Ciravolo said.
Down to the last detail
In addition, paperwork had to be completed for every ceremony.
“She handled the whole wedding,” he said. “She loved what she was doing even though she had no formal training. She enjoyed it up until the last minute.” Ciravolo said wedding vendors and brides alike loved his wife.
“She went out of her way for the brides and received beautiful emails and notes after weddings,” John Ciravolo said. “People I see tell me how much she meant to them.”
Bride Amy Barrios married at St. John the Baptist in March 2008 and said the Ciravolo family was just wonderful.
“Miss Mary Ann cared so much about that church,” Barrios said. “On weekends when there wasn’t a wedding, they were cleaning that church, making sure things would shine for weddings. ... It was not just an empty building to her. It was a piece of her childhood and her family. ... She made me feel very comfortable, and I knew the church ceremony was going to be beautiful and prepared with a little TLC thanks to her and her family.”
Plaque lauds her service
To honor Mary Ann Ciravolo, who died in October 2011, Father Stanley Klores, pastor at St. Patrick Church which oversees St. John the Baptist Church, had a plaque installed June 16 just outside the bride’s room at the church.
The inscription reads: “As volunteer wedding coordinator and caretaker, her many years of service and unceasing dedication to St. John have left a lasting legacy.”
“Father Klores and I decided it was the proper place for it,” John Ciravolo said, considering she lined up the bridal party just outside the room and instructed them when to begin walking down the 90-foot-long aisle when the organ or trumpet sounded and the ushers opened the iron gates.
“People would turn around and there was the bride,” John Ciravolo said.
Long-time church organist Paul Wattigny, who recently became the organist at Immaculate Conception Church, worked with the Ciravolos at St. John the Baptist and has many fond memories.
“She was an absolutely wonderful person,” Wattigny said. “I absolutely believe that the church would not have remained open for weddings, funerals or special occasions without her and her family. She was one of those people who was so nice, had a bubbly smile and ready to give you a hug.”
A concert gift
Two weeks before she died, Wattigny visited Ciravolo and she requested that he sneak into the church and play her favorite song, “Panis Angelicus,” as the sun set and lit the magnificent stained glass windows.
“I thought, why not take it a step further and have a memorial concert in her honor?” he said. That concert was held Aug. 19, 2012, and Wattigny performed “Panis Angelicus” with a trumpeter and singers.
“We had a wonderful working rapport,” he said. “She was one of those people that you meet and will never forget.“