The Church that Started a City

Saint Mary Magdalen Church – Abbeville, LA

The city of Abbeville owes its origins to the founder of St. Mary Magdalen Church.

The expansive, star-studded church that towers over downtown Abbeville is integral to the very existence of the city. Abbe Megret, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist at the time, established St. Mary Magdalen parish in 1842 in an effort to remove himself from the grip of the board of church trustees in Vermilionville. Abbe Megret purchased a large tract of land; some was reserved for church property, and the rest was “divided…into lots and sold,” forming the nucleus of the town of Abbeville, named after the church’s founder (Oubre 28).

For much of the church’s existence, it was staffed by foreign francophone priests; however, a Cajun clergyman, Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur, stands out in its history as a figure who has risen to national attention (“Our History”). Lafleur’s first assignment was to St. Mary Magdalen church; he later became a military chaplain during World War II. He was captured as a prisoner of war and died when the Japanese ship on which he was detained was attacked. For his heroism, he has earned military honors, and his cause for canonization may soon be opened (O’Neel). The history of St. Mary Magdalen demonstrates the centrality of the Church to early Acadian towns and traces the evolution of Acadiana as a mission territory to a Diocese with many native vocations.

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