Priests and Pirogues: A History of the Catholic Church in Acadiana

At the top of the list of sites to visit in South Louisiana are its historic churches. There are several religions practiced in South Louisiana today, such as Judaism, Islam, various forms of Christianity, and more; Catholicism, however, is particularly prevalent in Acadiana because of the religion’s deep roots in Louisiana and Acadian history. Yet Catholicism was firmly established in the colony long before the Acadians or even the earliest European settlers arrived in Louisiana. In fact, the Mississippi River was first mapped due to the records of Louis Joliet, a fur-trapper, and Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest (“Expedition”). Missionary priests were present among the earliest settlers in Louisiana (Pasquier). Until 1803, funding for priests’ salaries and the building of Catholic churches in Louisiana were handled by the French or, later, Spanish government (Oubre 19). It is largely because of Louisiana’s Catholicism that the Acadians were able to find refuge here.

The Acadians were francophone settlers in Nova Scotia, forcibly expelled by the British when they refused to acknowledge the British king as head of Church and State (Heimlich). Most Acadians eventually found their way to French-speaking, Catholic Louisiana, beginning settlements in the areas now known as St. Martinville and Opelousas (Oubre 12). This tour will explore the early churches settled not only by the Acadians but by all early settlers in the area now known as Acadiana.

Here we focus on Catholic religious sites because many of the earliest cities in Acadiana developed outward from the local Catholic church; it was the hub of activity. The Catholic Church connected many areas in Louisiana when there were no roads to do so; missionary priests traveled by land and water to reach those who lived far from a church. The history of the Church in Louisiana demonstrates how the interconnected, familial atmosphere of South Louisiana came about.

The Old Cajun Church

The St. Jacques de Cabahannoce Catholic Church was established in 1757. The original location of the church is now in the Mississippi river, and the actual church structure that was moved numerous times has been swept away by the Mississippi river…

The Catholic Church of Patterson, Louisiana

St. Joseph Catholic Church is located in the city of Patterson within the St. Mary Parish. In 1848 a group of catholic men, from a Dutch settlement, purchased the land that the church is sitting on for $225, and in 1895 Father Thomas Smith began…

The Iberian Masterpiece

St. Peter Catholic Church was established in 1838 shortly after the surrounding area saw an influx of French immigrants who moved down from the north. The growing population yearned for a church and one local man named Frederick Duperier made it…

The Old Jesuit Church

St. Charles College was established in 1837 in St. Charles parish, which is the third oldest parish in the Diocese of Lafayette. The site of the church was first purchased in 1819 by Bishop Louis William Dobourg for $10,000. In 1838 the church was…

The Old Wooden Church

St. Gabriel church is a roman catholic church located in the St. Gabriel perish. This church was built in 1769 by Father Dagobert. This church is considered to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, standing wooden churches in the region. St.…

Willkommen in Roberts Cove

In the words of Fr. Keith L Vincent, a previous pastor of St. Leo IV, “Hidden treasure lies just three miles from busy Interstate-10…Signs 500 feet before and after the church say ‘Roberts Cove,’ but this is all…” (Kondert, ix). The Germans have been…

From the Ground Up: Exploring Cathedral

The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist has been in existence for one hundred and ninety-seven years, and during this time, Cathedral has seen its ups and downs. In the early 1800s, Jean Mouton Sr. brought his friend, Father Barrière, to say mass…

The First Opelousas

One could say that Washington, Louisiana was the first Opelousas. This town was a large trading destination during the 18th century. People that resided in this town decided that it would be the “Post of Opelousas.” Priests would travel by boat to…

Lepers in Louisiana

When someone thinks about Louisiana, Hansen’s Disease, or the cure for it, is not the first thing that comes to mind. It turns out, back in the day, there was a leprosarium right down the street from Baton Rouge in Carville, Louisiana. In this…

An Acadian Home

Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church was founded by the Acadian exiles in 1765 when they arrived in St. Martinville. This church was officially blessed as a new church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The number of parishioners that this church…

The Miracle that Paved the Way to Sainthood

Situated in the quiet beauty of Grand Coteau is a historic school which attracts talented female scholars both from Louisiana and around the world. Established by the Religious of the Sacred Heart in the early 1800s, the Academy has remained in…

The Church that Started a City

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…

A Phoenix Rises from the Ashes

In the wake of the Civil War, a 4,000-square-mile parish named St. Francis de Sales formed in western Louisiana (Oubre 40). In 1869, St. Francis de Sales became an established parish by the archbishop; in 1881, the parish constructed a new church and…

Bishop Jeanmard’s War against Racism

The history of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church tells a story of outreach to and inclusion of minority Catholics. In the early 1900s, the Diocese of Lafayette included “50,000 black Catholics, one fourth of the total for the entire United States”…

A Grandiose Building with a War-Torn Past

This cathedral-sized church in Opelousas is called the “Mother Church of Acadiana,” for it was the second to be founded in the Diocese of Lafayette, and many smaller church parishes have been formed within the wide boundaries of the original parish…