Chosen as one of nine finalists in Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi Award
(Editor’s Note: Twenty-five years ago, two selfless laywomen made a life-changing commitment to open a Catholic Charismatic House of Prayer in Marksville. Aggie Neck left her job, and Donna Culotta, together with her husband, Joseph, sacrificed personal savings to buy and restore a house that would become, among other things, a hub of ministry to the needy in Marskville – and soon became known as Servant House.
This month, Aggie and Donna were named one of nine finalists in the Lumen Christi Awards, sponsored by Catholic Extension. If selected, they could be awarded a $25,000 grant.)
The dream of a house of prayer in Marksville was revealed to Aggie Neck one day while she was out walking in her neighborhood more than 27 years ago.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a Catholic Charismatic House of Prayer, a place where people could be ministered to?
Although she shared the idea with others they thought it was a good idea and told her to let them know when she got it together. But, she didn’t know how to get it together. Finally, she shared it with Donna Culotta whole she had met through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
“I’m supposed to be in there with you,” Donna confidently said after hearing Aggie’s idea.
Their husbands, on the other hand, were not quite as excited about their wives’ dream to start such a project.
For Aggie, it meant leaving a paying job as the DRE at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Marksville – and her husband Clyde wondering “how are you going to get it together?”
For Donna’s husband Joseph, this meant selling his hardware store in Leesville that had been in his family for years.
It meant taking their two teenage sons away from their friends and school, and moving them to Marksville.
It meant selling their home and leaving everything they had known in Leesville for the past 22 years, and moving to Marksville to start a project that would provide no salary.
It meant using their own savings to purchase, restore, and furnish a facility for the project.
Eventually, however, with the support of their husbands, the move was made and an old, rundown house was purchased.
“We thought it was a dump,” said both Aggie and Donna. “We couldn’t see the potential in a house that needed so much work.”
But with Joseph’s background in the hardware business and knowing a lot about plumbing and electrical work, he also had the connections to get the work done.
Clyde had the ability to see beyond the old house and envision the finished product with an eye for architecture and an appreciation for old houses.
While the husbands worked on the physical structure of the house, Aggie and Donna, with a large number of volunteers from local prayer groups and the community, worked on cleaning up the place – often turning some of the trash into cash.
Old record albums (left behind by the former occupant) were sold to a record dealer in New Orleans. Raleight cigarette coupons, scattered all over the house, were redeemed for daffodil bulbs planted in the front flower bed.
A small, worn-out library table with part of a leg missing and a warped top, was taken from the trash pile, repaired, restored, and now holds the display of string rosaries that are sold.
Everything about the small house was completely redone or restored from the roof to the brick pilings, the porches window screens, floors, walls, lawn and landscaping. The work was done mostly by volunteers who showed up at the right time to do a specific job.
After a year of renovations, the house was finished. On Oct. 15, 2989, with the unwavering support of their pastor Father Jeremy Bordelon, Bishop Sam Jacobs came to bless and dedicate the new facility, which they named “Servant House.”
Open for Business
Once the facility was opened, the two ladies were approached by a local businessman and his wife who wanted to form a youth group.
Mark Dubroc, who owned a pharmacy in Marksville, and his wife Sally, asked if the four of them could meet regularly to pray about organizing a group.
“Eventually the group of young people who began to meet, called themselves the Servant Squad,” said Donna, “and through this group of exceptional, faith-filled young people, (I believe) the seeds of faith were planted for the beginning of Steubenville South.
Mark and Sally, as well as Servant House, played a part in nurturing the seeds of faith of so many of the faith leaders in the diocese today – (Among them, Josh Blakesley, Kelly Pease Lombardi, Paul Hood, Heather Bennett Blakesley, Holly Bennett Carbo, and Michelle Lemoine.)
The youth prayer group met every Sunday night at Servant House, sharing music praise, worship , teachings, and fellowship.
“Eventually, we moved to the church hall at St. Joseph. Those were the days when the place was filed with young people who really wanted to be there and were so filled with the grace of God,” said Donna. “There were times when Sally had to say “go home!” at the end of the evening, because the kids enjoyed being together so much.”
Word spread in the community about the new house of prayer, where anyone in need was welcome to find food for the soul and mind.
“Food for the body came later,” Aggie explained, “people who needed food started coming and we realized we needed to do something, so we did.” That’s how the emergency food pantry at Servant House began and thrives today after 24 years.
Servant House offers two important ministries: inner healing and spiritual direction. Other activities include a monthly Mass with healing prayer, a prison ministry, a monthly prayer calendar for priests of the diocese and a monthly newsletter. Bible studies and workshops, sponsorship of the Avoyelles Right to Life which meets monthly at Servant House, a weekly prayer meeting, and coordination of a National Day of Prayer. They work closely with the local Magnificat Chapter and have been involved with Steubenville South since its inception 20 years ago.
“Many times when people come here they remark on how peaceful it is,” said Aggie. “They feel the peace and presence of ‘something good’ when they come in.” That something good is the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, where Mass is celebrated once a month.
Servant House, which exists on free will donations, is located at 117 N. Monroe Street in Marksville and is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.