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.