By Mallory Matt
More than 60 years of memories decorate Mike and Cissy Latiolias’ walls at their home in Anahuac, like a photo of Mike in the 1950s standing beside his classic car and many framed certificates for awards they’ve received for their community involvement. Others, like Mike’s infamous 50-gallon gumbo pot, take more of a scavenge to find.
Out back in the shed, the Louisiana native sets the four-foot wooden paddle he uses to stir on top of his trophy gumbo pot. The motion is second nature to him after the many times he’s helped fundraise for his parish, Our Lady of Light in Anahuac, by selling his gumbo.
“I’ve been cooking gumbo for as long as I can remember,” said the soon-to-be 90-year-old in his thick Cajun accent. “When money would get really tight, I would sell the gumbo, and we’d make all kinds of money. I always had a lot of people helping me, too. Cissy would make pies.”
Another memento kept tucked away are the keys to Our Lady of Light Church in Anahuac when it was constructed in the early 1960s.
“These keys were given to me,” said 86-year-old Cissy Latiolias. “They were given to me because I was the only woman not working that was a member of the church.”
While the church was being built, Cissy would be “on call” for when the construction workers needed to get into the church building, and she would be there to lock it once they left. She remembered using the keys twice for herself.
“I used them when President Kennedy was assassinated,” she said. “I went to that church by myself, and I just sat in there and cried.”
She went the second time after the death of her daughter in the early 2000s. Cissy said her daughter died from complications of radiation in her blood that had been passed on to her from Mike from when he walked on the grounds of Nagasaki just five days after the bombings during World War II.
“I think I had the keys for a reason,” Cissy said.
While the church has been there for the Latiolias’ tragedies, it has also brought them joy and close friends like Msgr. Richard DeStefano, who died in 2010.
“He was a wonderful man,” Cissy said. “Every year, no matter where he was, we would meet him for dinner on New Year’s Eve.”
Mike said he was inspired by Msgr. DeStefano’s story of how he became a priest.
“The reason he became a priest was because of the Korean war,” Mike said. “He was in a foxhole with four or five other people with him. All of them were killed except for him. And he looked up at the sky and said, ‘God, if you let me live, I’ll become a priest.’”
Cissy said it was always their closeness with priests that made life so interesting, especially the times the parish had a resident priest, which it doesn’t now.
And although it’s been many years, Mike and Cissy both have fond memories of seminarians staying in one of their rent houses during the summer — one of the seminarians the now retired Msgr. Kenneth Greig. The seminarians would work at Our Lady of Light for the day and then would have dinner with Mike and Cissy at night.
“One summer, the seminarians were home in the middle of the day,” Mike said between bouts of big, rumbling laughs. “I put on a rubber mask and jumped out at them from behind the trees. I scared the heck out of them!”
For more than 20 years, the Latiolias’ housed seminarians but Cissy said now she doesn’t know any of the seminarians in the Beaumont Diocese, which is only one of the changes she has experienced over the years.
The major change she and Mike have seen in their home parish is the dramatic increase in the Hispanic community.
“We have so many Mexicans now and they are all very devout Catholics,” Cissy said. “They’re part of our family. That’s the way it should be.”
During the 64 years of their marriage, Mike and Cissy have grown close to many clergy and laity, and they both agree they have had a great time doing so.
“We really have had a great life,” Cissy said. “And I think most of it was associated with the Catholic Church. I just hope we still have many years to come.”
Don’t miss the Latiolias’ interview – caught on camera – on the diocesan website, www.setxcatholic.org or the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont Facebook page, as well as on the Diocese of Beaumont YouTube channel. These video interviews are a series of different Southeast Texans’ perspectives and stories about the Diocese of Beaumont in honor of the 50th birthday celebration to be held Sept. 18 at Ford Park.