Bishop Jeanmard’s War against Racism
St. Paul the Apostle Church - Lafayette, LA
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” (Oubre 95). In this pre-Civil Rights era, Bishop Jeanmard devoted time and resources to establish Catholic institutions to serve black parishioners. It was black Catholics who expressed a desire for separate institutions; in fact, “[t]he black community of Lafayette was the first to specifically ask for their own church”; as a result, St. Paul was established in 1911 (Oubre 66).
Shortly after, Bishop Jeanmard was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette (Oubre 70). In 1934, Bishop Jeanmard accepted four of the first African American priests in the south into his diocese to serve at the newly created parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, formed from a portion of St. Paul’s parish (Oubre 94). The parish included Holy Rosary Institute, a church and a boys’ school (Oubre 94). The fruit of this work can be seen in the life of Bishop Joseph Francis, who was born in Lafayette, educated at St. Paul’s school, ordained in 1950 and eventually became associate director of Holy Rosary Institute. Later, he became Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, New Jersey (Oubre 138). Bishop Jeanmard showed his dedication to the minority parishioners of his Diocese to the end of his life; “[o]ne of his last requests was that his body be laid out for an overnight vigil and Mass at St. Paul’s Church” (Oubre 95). The parish of St. Paul was created out of the church’s cooperation with black parishioners when most of the South preferred to do otherwise.