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of the Diocesan Coat of Arms
he Coat of Arms of the Diocese of Alexandria was commissioned by Bishop Daniel F. Desmond, the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Alexandria, in 1933 and designed by the heraldist Pierre de Chaignon LaRose. The Coat of Arms of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria, which was established as an independent See by His Holiness, Pope St. Pius X on August 6, 1910, is composed of a shield with a red field on which is placed a white Greek cross. In the quadrants of the cross are found four silver bells, symbols of the ancient Patriarchal See of Alexandria, Egypt. Superimposed on the cross is the checkered crescent from the arms of the House of Xavier symbolizing the patronage of St. Francis Xavier, patron of foreign missions and the principle patron of the Cathedral church and the diocese. The coat of arms is completed with the addition of one traditional external ornament; a jeweled miter. The miter is the ceremonial head covering of a bishop in the western or Latin Catholic church. Its placement signifies that the coat of arms is that of a diocese under episcopal direction
‘A Time for Faith’
The Colonial Past
French Colonial Louisiana
Under the rule of the French Crown, the Louisiana colony stretched from Canada down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The explorer, Robert de la Salle, claimed the land for France and, on April 9, 1682, christened the area ‘Louisiane’ in honor King Louis XIV. One of the members of La Salle’s party, Fr. Zenobius Membre, a Franciscan Recollect friar, became the first missionary in the area of Louisiana when he encountered a party of Tensas Indians on the shores of Lake St. Joseph near present day Newellton.
Old River, Avoyelles Parish
First Mass plaque, Immaculate Conception Church, Natchitoches.
Robert de la Salle and Fr. Membre
French exploration of the area continued in May of 1690 when Henri de Tonti visited the Natchitoches Indians encamped on the Red River during his fruitless search for survivors of La Salle’s second expedition. These early adventurers found a land dominated by water - streams, rivers, bayous, lakes and marshes inundated the landscape. These waterways became highways through the virgin forests for French trappers and settlers. In 1699, Iberville established a formal royal colony opening settlement along the Gulf coast, in lower Louisiana and along the Mississippi. Three priests from the Seminary of Quebec were sent out to begin the conversion of the native tribes south of the Illinois territory. Fr. Francois de Montigny, together with two lay brothers, established a missionary post among the Tensas Indians in northeast Louisiana. He labored among the Tensas for seven months baptizing 185 children before his return to France in 1700. French settlement among the Natchitoches Indians of the Red River valley began during the Crozat administration around 1714 under the leadership of Louis
Juchereau de St. Denis who had first scouted the Red River with Bienville in 1700. A Jesuit, Fr. Paul Du Ru, had accompanied that expedition but had been unable to offer mass in the area after his ‘pirogue’ capsized near present day Montgomery. In that accident, he lost his ‘mass cards’ in the stream that came to be known as ‘Rigolet de Bon Dieu’. St. Denis and Jules Lambert explored the Red River valley again in 1702 and in 1710. St. Denis persuaded a portion of the Natchitoches tribe to relocate south to Bayou St. John near present day New Orleans. They accompanied St. Denis on his ‘trading’ expedition north in 1713. In response to an appeal for help sent to the French governor at Mobile by a Spanish friar, Fray Francisco Hildalgo of the San Juan Bautista mission on the Rio Grande, Governor Cadillac ordered St. Denis and his Natchitoches allies to proceed north to the Red River and into Spanish ‘Tejas’ in order to establish contact with the Spanish on the Rio Grande and open trade between the two colonies. The Frenchmen arrived
at the old Natchitoches encampment on November 25, 1713. Leaving supplies under guard, St. Denis continued west and south arriving at San Juan Bautista on July 19, 1714. He and his companions were held there under house arrest by the Spanish authorities. During his confinement, St. Denis met and won the hand of Dona Emanuela Sanchez de Vararro, the 17-year-old granddaughter of the Commandant, Don Ramon Sancho de Navarro. Brought under guard to Mexico City in March of 1715, St. Denis was imprisoned and questioned over a period of several months. On August 22, he was released after pledging allegiance to the King of Spain and was commissioned by the Spanish as guide and ‘conductor of supplies’ to Captain Ramon’s new expedition, which was charged with extending Spanish authority into the area north of the Rio Grande. St. Denis and Emanuela were married at the San Juan Bautista mission in 1716. The Ramon expedition, under the spiritual leadership of Venerable Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus, established six new missions in east Texas. In March 1717, the Ramon expedition, in response to the French presence among the Natchitoches, pushed east of the Sabine River and established their last mission outpost, San Miguel de Linares, near the Arroyo Hondo among the Adaes Indians just 21 miles from the French ‘Poste de Natchitoches’. Fr. Margil traveled the 21 miles between the two outposts to offer the first recorded mass at the French settlement in 1717. War between France and Spain broke out in 1719. French troops under the command of Lt. Phillipe Blondel raided the Spanish outpost driving the friars from the mission. They returned, in force, in 1721, under the leadership of the Marquis de Aguyano and re-established the San Miguel mission. The new presidio of Los Adaes was built around a new chapel dedicated to Nuestra Senor del Pilar, Our Lady of the Pilar. The chapel was dedicated on October 12, 1721, with mass and a sermon by Fr. Margil. Los Adaes, the only Spanish mission built in Louisiana, became the capital of Spanish ‘Tejas’. Fr. Margil worked among the Indians of northwest Louisiana with limited success. In time, he was recalled to Mexico City where he died in the ‘odor of sanctity’ in 1724. His cause for beatification was introduced in Rome and he was declared ‘Venerable’ by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836. In 1721, Sieur St. Denis, now a Knight of St. Louis and Commandant of the French post at Natchitoches, built a chapel in his home. The Spanish friars at Los Adaes regularly walked the 21 miles between the posts to minister to the French garrison. A sum of 600 French livres was
The History of the Diocese of Alexandria - A Time for Faith The History of the Diocese of Alexandria - A Time for Faith
Venerable Father Antonio Margil de Jesus, Franciscan Missionary and founder of the Los Adeas mission, 1717.
Fort Chapel. Chapel within the palisade of the reconstructed Fort St. Jean Baptiste.
(Courtesy of the Louisiana Office of State Parks.)
1731 map of the Red River Valley.
allocated by the Company of the West under Crozat for the erection of a chapel at Fort St. Jean Baptiste. The first French Capuchin missionary from the Compeigne seminary to serve the Natchitoches post was Fr. Maximin, who arrived in the area in 1728. The sacramental records of ‘la paroisse de Natchitoches’ begin with the entry of Francois Gaspar Barbier’s baptism on September 3, 1724, by Fr. Francisco Ballejo of the Los Adaes mission. Fr. Maximin recorded his first act as ‘pastor’ with the baptism of a Negro slave on April 8,
Plans for St. Francis Church Natchitoches, 1786.
1729. Later that year, Fr. Maximin was persuaded to leave the post by St. Denis whose own son was baptized later that year by the Spanish friars preferred by Dona Emanula. St. Denis and his wife exercised a great religious influence in the area. They regularly presented their slaves for baptism and they or their daughters regularly stood as godparents. A 1733 French plan of Fort St. Jean Baptiste shows a small chapel constructed of mud and logs covered with bark with one door in the front wall and one window in each side wall. In 1734, Fr. Pierre Vitry, a Jesuit from New Orleans, came to minister in the northern post. His first pastoral act was recorded in the parish register in March 1734. In 1735, the fort was moved from its original site, which was prone to flooding, to the western side of the river and a new church was built outside the walls in the growing community between the site of the second fort and what is now known as the American Cemetery. An inventory dated May 9, 1738, describes a church building dedicated to St. John the Baptist measuring 24 feet wide and 26 feet in length, covered with wooden shingles to protect the mud walls from the weather. The structure had 6 small windows, double doors and 18 benches. Two lay trustees or ‘marguilliers’ were elected to help oversee the church: Robert Avant and Pierre Fosse. Jacques Cunel served as the ‘beadle’ or sextant of the parish. The post at Natchitoches officially came under the jurisdiction of the French Capuchins. When additional Capuchins arrived in the colony in 1738 one of them, Fr. Jean Francois de Civray, was sent to replace Fr. Vitry. The people petitioned to keep their Jesuit pastor and when the petition was refused by the civil authorities Fr. Civray chose to leave the post before the year was out. He was replaced by Fr. Arcange in March 1740. Fr. Arcange labored in Natchitoches until September 1743 when he was replaced by Fr. Dagobert de Longuory. He stayed at the post until March 1744. Just before leaving
Natchitoches he witnessed the will of Sieur Louis was found guilty and his personal belongings were Juchereau de St. Denis. His replacement, Fr. Barnebe, seized and auctioned to cover the fine. The priest was arrived in April of 1744 and served the parish until recalled to New Orleans for his ‘unsatisfactory September 1748. It was in Fr. Barnebe’s time that the conduct’. church was dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. Before his departure from the area, Fr. Valentin St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches and was instrumental in establishing the second chapel godfather to many of its inhabitants, white and in north Louisiana at the ‘rapids’ on the lower Red black, died at 10 in the evening on June 11, 1744 and River. This mission, dedicated to was buried with due ceremony by Fr. Barnebe, the St. Louis, King of France and Capuchin pastor, assisted by the Spanish friars from known as ‘St. Louis de Appalages’, Los Adaes, including Fr. Francisco Ballejo, superior was established to minister to of the Texas missions. Also present at the funeral the needs of the Apalachee were the chiefs of the Natchitoches and Adaes tribes Indians who had fled from ■ Bust of de St Denis together with Don Justo Boneo y Morales, the British Florida to French Spanish governor of Tejas. St. Denis was laid to rest Louisiana in order to in the sanctuary of the parish church. Emanuela St. Denis was 47 at practice their Catholic faith unmolested. the time of her husband’s death. She survived him by 14 years. The tribe, numbering about 30 families, In March 1749, the Capuchin superiors sent Fr. Ame to the were settled above the falls or ‘rapids’ on church on the Red River but his tenure was short and he was replaced the banks of the Red at the northern end that same year by Fr. Eustache, who served until 1755. ‘Chronic of Bayou Jean de Jean, near present day friction’ between the Capuchins and their frontier flock erupted in Boyce. They built their cabins and 1759 under Fr. Valentin. An affidavit dated June 9, 1759, titled planted their crops around the chapel “A certificate on the Subject of Insults spoken in the Pulpit by the built for them by Fr. Valentin in March Reverend Father Valentin against Mr. de Blanc, commandant” is of 1764 on a bluff later known as preserved in the Natchitoches Parish court records. The case was Zimmerman Hill overlooking the river. prosecuted between November 1761 and January 1762. Fr. Valentin The last French Capuchin pastor of the Natchitoches church was Fr. Stanislaus who was appointed to the post in 1764. In 1769, the year that control of Louisiana passed from France to Spain, the official census registered 453 whites and 311 black slaves in Natchitoches and 33 whites and 18 slaves at ‘Poste de Rapides’ with a small village of Apalachee Indians nearby. These settlers raised tobacco, corn and rice, pastured a few cows and kept chickens. Most of the settlers were engaged in trade with the various Indian tribes. It was truly a frontier existence ■ Burial record St Denis 1744 without religion, without discipline, and without order but the seeds of faith had been sown.
Signature of St. Denis Antique statue of St. Francis of Assisi, circa 1770, Bishop Martin Museum, Natchitoches.
priest, Fr. Jean Delvaux, who began construction on a new church in the new civil center that same year. The French priest was reassigned in 1793 and was replaced by Fr. Pedro de Valez who died in 1794. The Louisiana colony was originally under the ecclesiastical Fr. Delvaux returned to Natchitoches in January 1795. jurisdiction of the Diocese of Quebec. When control of the territory During this second term, Fr. Delvaux was charged with making was ceded to Spain the colony came under the jurisdiction of the ‘seditious speeches’ calling for an end to Spanish rule. The authorities Diocese of Santiago de Cuba. Later it was in New Orleans agreed to recall the priest but his transferred to the Diocese of St. Christopher in local supporters circulated a petition calling for his Havana. In the initial period of transition, many of maintenance. Seven or eight of the pastor’s closest the French Capuchins remained in place; including supporters were later charged with physical assault Fr. Stanislas in Natchitoches. and disorderly conduct. Delvaux was eventually Orders went out from the new regime for arrested and sent to Havana to await trial before the repairs to be made to the parochial church in Inquisition. He was formally charged in July 1797 Natchitoches and the cornerstone for a new church, but escaped from Havana in October 1798. made of native stone, was laid in 1771. Fr. Stanislas In September, 1795, Fr. Pierre Pavie, a native left the post in March of 1774, and returned to of La Rochelle, who had fled the terror of the France. Since the transfer of power, Spanish officials French Revolution, arrived in Natchitoches. This decided to abandon the old presidio and mission at zealous priest traveled extensively throughout all Los Adaes since its military purpose of guarding the north Louisiana visiting new settlements at Isle Spanish frontier against the French was now Brevelle. A new chapel was built on Bayou Scie at obsolete. Land in the area was poor for farming and Las Cabezas some 20 miles from present day Many the missionaries had never really succeeded in their and dedicated to Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. efforts to bring the Adaes Indians into the fold. The In February of 1783, Captain Don Juan Filhiol Spanish, French and Indian settlers along the Arroyo began to establish a military post, Fort Miro, at Hondo were ordered to move and resettle around the ‘Prairie de Canots’ a small settlement on the Ouachita mission at San Antonio. In time, a number of these River in northeast Louisiana. Fr. Quintinilla traveled settlers returned east to establish the town of to the Ouachita Post in May of 1787 and Nacogdoches; others returned to ■ Bishop Luis Penalver y Cardenas, 1st Bishop ministered to the scattered Catholics in the region of Louisiana and the Floridas, 1796. settle along the Sabine, near the as well as to the neighboring Choctaw tribe for a old Los Adaes site. The Spanish period of three months. friars from Los Adaes took charge of St. Francis Frequent flooding along the Mississippi in the 1780's forced Church in Natchitoches and Fr. Luis de Quintanilla many inhabitants of the Pointe Coupee area to seek higher ground served as pastor from June 1775 to February 1783. north along the Red River. They found shelter from the rising waters In 1777, yellow fever broke out in Natchitoches on high grasslands among the Avoyelles Indians. A small military post and many died in the widespread epidemic. Two years had been established in the region in the early days of Spanish rule later, Spain declared war on England and colonists from but the area remained sparsely populated. north Louisiana marched south to fight with Governor In 1795, Bishop Luis Penalver y Cardenas, the first Bishop of Galvez. During these turbulent times, Osage raiding Louisiana and the Floridas, arrived in his See city of New Orleans. The parties spread terror to the region west of Natchitoches. In new bishop visited his northern most parishes in October and the midst of these tragedies, Fr. Quintinilla tried to reform November of 1796 with the expressed intent “to preserve and extend the laxity of his parish with Spanish rigor. The number of the Catholic religion”. Three hundred and ninety-four white settlers holy days was increased and Church law was rigidly and 140 slaves greeted the bishop at ‘El Rapido’. In his 2-day visit, the enforced as never before. In 1783, Fr. Quintinilla was bishop performed 48 baptisms, 1 marriage and 35 confirmations. At replaced by Fr. Francisco de Caldes, who served the the Apalachee village, 6 children were baptized and 10 confirmed. In parish until 1786. He was replaced by a secular Natchitoches, the bishop baptized 80 children and confirmed a class of 86. The census that year counted a total population of 1,694. Over ■ Chalice 1782 900 of those counted were black slaves. At the ‘Puesto Aboyeles’ the
Under Spanish Rule
bishop confirmed a class of 109. Sixty-eight baptisms were recorded. The population of the post was 338 whites and 105 blacks. In addition, the commandant, Carlos de Grande Pre, counted 138 Pascogoulas, 144 Biloxi, 111 Tunicas and 135 Apalachee in the area. The Spanish Crown had granted 240 arpents of land for the erection of a church and cemetery in 1784 but no structure had been built by the time of the bishop’s visitation. After his visitation, Bishop Penalver decided to erect a new parish in the Avoyelles. The sacramental register for the Nuestra Senora del Carmen or (Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church), which comprised the Avoyelles, Rapides and Ouachita posts, was entrusted to Fr. Juan Maguire, an Irish-born Carmelite graduate of the University of Salamanca, in June 1797. He was succeeded by Fr. Juan Brady in 1798. Fr. Brady built the first church and served as pastor for the Avoyelles area as well as the scattered French settlements along the Ouachita near Fort Miro. Bayou Scie and Fort Miro were established as independent parishes in 1799 but there were no priests available to serve as pastors and they remained as missions. By the terms of a secret agreement, the Treaty of San Ildefonso signed in 1800, Spain relinquished control of the Louisiana territory back to France. In 1801, Bishop Penalver was appointed Archbishop of Guatemala and the Louisiana See was left vacant. From 1805 until 1815, the Bishop of Baltimore served as Apostolic Administrator. With the bishop’s departure in 1801, a ‘period of confusion and decline’ set in as uncertainty and frustration settled over the region.
The Louisiana Purchase
In 1803, the United States purchased the territory of Louisiana from France for the sum of 15 million dollars or roughly 4 cents an acre. In the days that followed, most of the Spanish clergy left the area to continue their ministry in Spanish territory. Fr. Brady retired from the Avoyelles church and went on to serve at Baton Rouge in Spanish ‘West Florida’. Fr. Pavie continued to serve at Natchitoches all the while expressing his discontent and mistrust of the new infant republic. He eventually retired from the Church of St. Francis in 1806 and returned home to La Rochelle. With no resident pastors in place, the scattered Catholics of north Louisiana had to rely on visiting missionaries for the celebration of the sacraments. From 1806 to 1812, Fr. Louis Buhot of Opelousas and Fr. Francisco Maynes of Nacogdoches visited the area. Fr. Buhot entered the claim with the U.S. Land Commission in Opelousas that saved the church lands in the Avoyelles from confiscation. The property was surveyed in May 1811 and title was made and confirmed by the state in 1813. Fr. Maynes was appointed pastor of the church
in Natchitoches in 1813. He pressed to have the parish incorporated under state law that same year and had the parish lands surveyed and registered. The land given to the church at Fort Miro was lost and eventually sold at public auction. In 1814, a new pastor was appointed for the Mount Carmel Church which had been without a resident pastor since 1803. Fr. Michael Barrier served for two years and baptized over 200 people before taking up his new assignment in St. Martinville. During Fr. Barrier’s tenure and immediately after, a new wave of immigration began in the Avoyelles as French refugees crossed the Atlantic after the fall of Napoleon. Many of these were veterans of the ‘Grande Armee’. For these old soldiers the vast grasslands of the Avoyelles prairie resembled the fought-over ground near El Mansura in Egypt where the Army of the Nile had been defeated in 1799. Others with a more classical bent called the area around the church and cemetery Hydropolis. After Fr. Barrier’s departure, Fr. Flavius Henri Rossi and Fr. Marcella Borella provided services intermittently in the Avoyelles between 1816 and 1822. In Natchitoches, Fr. Francisco Maynes continued the missionary rounds established by Fr. Pavie. In 1816, a new chapel was dedicated to St. John the Baptist on lands donated by Alexis Cloutier. The first chapel was built at Alexandria, a town laid out in 1805 along the Red River by Alexander Fulton and William Miller, in 1817. In 1815, Fr. Louis William Valentin DuBourg, who had been named Apostolic Administrator of Louisiana and the Floridas by Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore in 1812, was consecrated in Rome as the second Bishop of Louisiana. He visited his northern parishes in 1821 and noted: “I saw with sorrow the decadence of everything pertaining to religion; the church and the presbytery threaten to collapse; the ornaments are in tatters; the zeal and faith singularly cold, ignorance in all the classes”. In Natchitoches the bishop confirmed a class of 30. In Alexandria, he preached at the College of Rapides, an institution also known as the ‘Academy’. The small wooden chapel of 1817 had grown too small and mass was being offered four times a year either in the Academy building or in the home of a local merchant, Antoine Biossat. In 1822, the year Fr. Maynes left Natchitoches to return to Texas, the Church of St. Francis caught fire. The blaze not only destroyed the church but also about 65 other buildings around it. The owners who lost property sued the trustees of the church for damages
The History of the Diocese of Alexandria - A Time for Faith
Bishop Martin's signature
claiming that the hired caretaker had become church but funds collected by the ladies of intoxicated leaving all the windows open and Natchitoches were quickly used up in laying the candles on the altar lit which then ignited the foundations and no other income was the hangings and draperies. The plaintiffs forthcoming. Fr. Anduze resigned his post won their suit only to have the verdict with its unfinished church and was transferred overturned on a technicality. Mass was said by to south Louisiana after a year. Bishop visiting priests at irregular intervals in a public DuBourg resigned his See and returned to hall. France in 1826 and was named Bishop of In 1824, Bishop DuBourg assigned Montaubon. His auxiliary, Bishop Rosati of Fr. Jean Emile Martin as pastor of the St. Louis, became the administrator of the Avoyelles church. He found little on his arrival diocese. in the area. The faith had all but withered In June of 1827, Bishop Rosati appointed away. The small chapel was a ‘mere cabanage’ Fr. Jean Baptiste Blanc, the younger brother of and there was no rectory. Setting up a little Fr. Antoine Blanc, to the parish at lean-to shelter beside the ruined church, Natchitoches. Fr. Blanc, “a model priest and Fr. Martin made do with cornbread and devoted pastor”, undertook the completion of charity as he went about the work of the church. Work resumed on September 1, rebuilding his church and parish. In his first ■ Nicolas Augustin Metoyer, patriarch of Isle Brevelle and 1827 and in February 1828 “an act was passed founder of St. Augustine Church, Isle Brevelle, circa 1856. by the state legislature and approved by year, he blessed 50 marriages and began to repair the church which he dedicated in honor Gov. H. Johnson authorizing the procuring of of St. Paul the Apostle. At the growing community of Marksville, a sum of $20,000 by means of a lottery for the purpose of building a north of the Hydropolis site, Fr. Martin built a small chapel dedicated Catholic Church in Natchitoches”. The new church was blessed by to St. Joseph. During his visitation in 1825, Bishop DuBourg praised Fr. Blanc on October 25, 1828. The finished building measured the work of the pastor and people and confirmed a large class. 50 feet wide by 100 feet long. At Natchitoches, Bishop DuBourg installed Fr. Aristide Anduze Through the generosity of Nicolas Augustine Metoyer and his as pastor with directions to build a new church. During the course of brother, Louis Metoyer, a chapel was built on Cane River at Isle the bishop’s month long visitation, 108 baptisms were celebrated and Brevelle and dedicated to St. Augustine on July 19th, 1829. In Campti, a new board of trustees elected. The bishop also gave Fr. Anduze an a new chapel, dedicated in honor of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin, associate, Fr. Dusaussoy, a relative of St. Madeline Sophie Barat, the was built on lands donated by Miss Francoise Crichet and blessed by foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. These two priests Fr. Blanc on September 8, 1831. In 1832, Catholics in Alexandria visited Cloutierville, Campti, Bayou Pierre, Cane River, Grand Ecore, secured a site on Front Street for a new church. and Bayou Scie. Efforts were made in 1826 to begin rebuilding the In the Avoyelles, troubles between Fr. Jean Martin and the trustees of St. Paul’s Church came to a head before Holy Week in 1832 and the pastor found himself locked out of his church and rectory. The new bishop, Leo de Neckere, tried to mediate between the wardens and the pastor to no avail. The bishop was forced to place the parish under interdict. St. Paul’s remained without a pastor for 2 years. In early May 1834, Fr. Blanc left Natchitoches in the care of his associate, Fr. D’Hauw, and set off for a rest in New Orleans. Opposite Pointe Coupee he grew dangerously ill and was put ashore for treatment. On May 11, Fr. Jean Baptiste Blanc died in Pointe Coupee and was buried in the cemetery of St. Francis’ Church. Fr. Edmond D’Hauw brought his body back to Natchitoches and it was interred in a vault in the sanctuary of the church on February 5, 1835. Fr. D’Hauw, a Belgian priest, was appointed pastor. Fr. Martin returned to the Avoyelles church after the interdict ■ 1700s Avoyelles Church land grant was lifted in 1834 but he remained for only a year. He was replaced by
33-year-old Fr. Louis Alaux in 1835. Fr. Alaux traveled south along Bayou de Glaises but few attended his masses. Parents refused to send their children to catechism and more than half the parish had never made their first communion. Twenty-one children received their first communion in August, 1835 in what would be Fr. Alaux’s last act as pastor. In 1836, Fr. Martin returned and resumed the pastorate until 1840. He began to draw up plans for a new church in September of 1837. Catholics in Alexandria were able to move forward on their church building project in 1834 with the aid of Mother Xavier Murphy, Superior of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Couteau. In gratitude for Mother Xavier’s donations, the Alexandria church was dedicated to her patron saint, St. Francis Xavier. The frame church built by Theophilus Hilton measured 80 feet long and 36 feet wide and held 38 pews. It would be another decade before its interior was completely finished. In January 1836, the new Bishop of New Orleans, Antoine Blanc, made his first visitation to the Church of St. Francis in Natchitoches. The bishop confirmed a class of 42. Fr. D’Hauw was reassigned to south Louisiana and Fr. Victor Jamey was appointed pastor. On March 17, 1838, a fire in Natchitoches gutted the new Church of St. Francis together with several other buildings. Nothing was left but the four brick walls. The pews and whatever else could be salvaged were placed in the new LeComte townhouse where mass was offered. Repairs began immediately and a new roof was in place by January 1839. Necessary repairs were made to the church in Cloutierville and were finished in February but the interior had neither pews nor altar and there was only one vestment. Fr. Nicolas Francais was assigned as pastor to St. Paul’s in Hydropolis in 1840. During his three-year term he established the first Ladies’ Altar Society in north Louisiana in 1842. A pastor was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Church in Alexandria in October 1840. Fr. Robert Doogan was the pioneer priest ordained from Louisiana’s first seminary, St. Vincent de Paul at Assumption near Plattenville on Bayou Lafourche. The new pastor visited Belgian settlements around Spring Creek, offering mass in the homes of Severan Rougeau and Michael Paul. Fr. Doogan established mission stations at Holloway Prairie, Plaisance, Bayou Boeuf and Calcasieu. During his visits to one of the Indian villages, Fr. Doogan contracted a fever that left him weak. He finally agreed to rest in the home of John Brown, one of the wardens of the church. His condition deteriorated and ten days later, on October 2, 1843, he died from ‘bilious fever’ before the priest could arrive from Natchitoches to anoint him. An account of his death noted: “He left no will because he had nothing”. He was buried on October 4 in a vault under the main aisle of the Alexandria church, which he had almost completed. Fr. Etienne Chartier replaced him in 1843. Work on a new church in the Avoyelles began in 1844. Fr. Francais wanted to dedicate the building in honor of St. Vincent
but he was overruled and the new building completed in 1845, under Fr. Charles Dalloz, was called St. Paul’s. Bishop Blanc came north for the dedication and confirmed a class of 80. Fr. Dalloz remained at St. Paul’s until his death in 1849. He had stepped on a nail and the wound had been slow to heal. Word reached him that a black woman had died and was in need of Christian burial. The priest performed the ceremony but pressure on his foot reopened the wound. Infection set in and he died at the age of 42 on June 27, 1849.
The History of the Diocese of Alexandria - A Time for Faith
The Antebellum Period
Fr. Victor Jamey, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, informed Bishop Blanc that the Natchitoches mission was too vast for one priest to handle. Due to a shortage of secular clergy in the diocese, Bishop Blanc asked the Lazarist or Vincentian Fathers to take charge of the mission and complete the construction of the new church. They agreed and Fr. Joachim Alabau, C.M. was named as administrator. He and Fr. Doutreluingne arrived in Natchitoches in May 1840. Fr. Joseph T. Giustiniani, C.M. was named pastor. He was assisted by Fr. Alabau, Fr. Pascual and Fr. Mignard, all of whom served at Natchitoches until 1844. In 1849, Fr. Roman Pascual, C.M. was appointed pastor and a new mission station was opened on Bayou Pierre. Later that year, Fr. Anthony Varrina, C.M. was named pastor. By December 1844, Fr. Chartier had left Alexandria and returned to New Orleans. His tenure in Alexandria had not been a happy one and he left claiming his time in central Louisiana had been the ‘height of unhappiness’ and never in his life had he “suffered such secret sorrow”. His replacement, Fr. William Ivers, a native of Hailfax, Nova Scotia, had served in Boston and Rhode Island before coming south to Louisiana. He left the parish after six months declaring: “This mission will not support a priest”. He was ■ Fr. Pierre Felix Dicharry, reassigned to St. Patrick’s in New Orleans. A Vincentian priest, Fr. Hector Figuri, a native Vicar General and rector of Genoa, Italy, served the Alexandria area until of the Cathedral January 1848. Under his direction a chapel was built in Natchitoches, circa 1887. in Spring Creek by W. Verheyden. During visits to the Spring Creek mission, Fr. Figuri lodged with the Andries family. Bishop Blanc assigned Fr. Jean Pierre Bellier, a former Eudist Father, to the church in Alexandria in January 1848. During this period, the first Catholic school was opened in Natchitoches by the Religious of the Sacred Heart in 1847. They
opened a girls’ boarding and day school in the former Pierre Bossier mansion. Mother Telcide Landry was the first superior of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Natchitoches. The Academy was later relocated to the former Judge Bullard mansion outside of town on land that now houses Northwestern State University.
Four Religious of the Sacred Heart died before the scourge finally lifted with the autumn frosts. Despite its own sufferings, Natchitoches collected $1,200 to send to the Howard Association’s relief fund in New Orleans for victims of the plague. In a letter to Archbishop Blanc, Fr. Martin confided, ‘I had many tears to mingle with the tears of those around me, and still how good God has been to us.” In 1849, the Vincentian Fathers informed It was in the midst of these losses that the Papal Bishop Blanc that due to a lack of personnel they Bulls of Erection and Appointment for the new would have to hand over the Natchitoches mission Diocese of Natchitoches arrived from Rome via New to the secular clergy. Bishop Blanc assigned the Orleans. In those documents dated July 29, 1853, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Baton Rouge, Fr. Auguste ■ Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Pope Pius IX dismembered the Archdiocese of New Natchitoches on July 29, 1853. Martin, to Natchitoches with the title Vicar Forane Orleans and erected a new diocese for the northern for north Louisiana. Fr. George Guy and Fr. Philbert half of the state of Louisiana. The Holy Father Jourdain were assigned to assist him. Fr. Marcella F. Mazzerechelli, a directed that the See be established in the city of Natchitoches. native of Italy, was assigned to the Avoyelles church. Fr. Richard St. Francis Church was raised to the dignity of a cathedral and its Hardey replaced Fr. Bellier in Alexandria. In the spring of 1850, Fr. Isidore Cluny arrived to assist Fr. Martin in Natchitoches. Fr. Michael Kelly, a native of Ireland, was sent to the newly built St. Mary’s parish at Milliken’s Bend near Lake Providence. In 1851, Fr. George Guy was assigned as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Cloutierville and Fr. Philibert Jourdain was sent to Campti to build a new church. In that same year, Fr. Hyacinth Tumoine was appointed pastor of St. Paul’s in Avoyelles to replace Fr. Mazzerechelli who returned to Italy. Fr. Figuri left the Vincentian congregation and was sent to replace Fr. Hardey in Alexandria. Bishop Blanc assigned Fr. Patrick Canavan to Monroe, the old Fort Miro site. Gramont Filhiol gave land for a church and work was begun but the contractor failed and financial support dried up. Fr. Canavan returned to New Orleans and Fr. J.J. Dougherty was assigned to the Ouachita mission. Like Fr. Canavan, Fr. Dougherty visited Catholic families in Homer, Minden, Bossier Parish and Shreveport but he did not stay long convinced that the settlement could not afford to maintain a priest. In May of 1852, Archbishop Blanc sent Fr. Pierre Felix Dicharry to Natchitoches to assist Fr. Martin. The new church in Campti was dedicated on December 21, 1852 but there was an outstanding mortgage of $1,100 still owed and the interior remained unfinished. Fr. Jourdain left the area in January 1853 and returned to New Orleans leaving the parish without a pastor. Later that year, yellow fever struck the region and devastated the population. Alexandria, Shreveport, Cloutierville were ‘crushed’. Cloutierville lost half of its white population in that dreadful summer. Fr. Figuri, Fr. Guy and Fr. Dicharry all were struck down but survived.
Advertisement for the opening of Presentation Academy in Cocoville, 1856.
The History of the Diocese of Alexandria - A Time for Faith
pastor, Auguste Martin, was elected the first bishop of the new See. The bishop-elect wanted to have the ceremonies of consecration performed in the church at Natchitoches, hoping that the solemn celebration would “contribute abundantly to [his] influence for good” but the consecrating bishops believed the church was too small for the ceremony and the consecration took place in New Orleans at the renovated Cathedral of St. Louis on November 30, 1853. On Sunday, December 11, Bishop Martin was installed in his cathedral church. The new bishop’s task was enormous in scope. The vast territory of his new diocese was larger than the country of Holland - almost threefifths of the state. To serve this large and growing area the bishop had only five priests, four of whom belonged to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and six churches; one Catholic school; three mission chapels and over 25, 000 souls. The church at Campti was still vacant and Fr. Kelly at Milliken’s Bend died in February of 1854 leaving another empty parish. The bishop assigned his only curate, Fr. Pierre Dicharry as his Vicar General and rector of the cathedral. In May of 1854, Bishop Martin sailed for France to recruit seminarians and priests for his missionary diocese from his native Brittany. The trip was a great success and the bishop returned with 12 young men of great piety and talent from Saint Brieuc, Nantes, Rennes and Orleans. At Treguier, the bishop invited the Daughters of the Cross, a female religious congregation dedicated to teaching, to establish a new school in the Avoyelles. Mother Hyacinth LeConiant was named the superior of the first band of 10 religious to volunteer for the Louisiana mission. They arrived in November of 1855 and opened their first school in Avoyelles, Presentation Academy, at Cocoville on February 2, 1856.
Mother Hyacinth and the first Daughters of the Cross to serve in Louisiana, 1855.
Before his return home, Bishop Martin met with Pope Pius IX in August of 1854 to ask his blessing on the new diocese. The bishop also requested permission to dedicate the cathedral church in Natchitoches in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Holy Father gave permission and granted a perpetual indulgence to the people of north Louisiana on December 8 of every year. The Holy Father also presented the bishop with a fine leather-bound set of the Roman Pontificals for use in his cathedral. Cardinal Fransconi gave the new bishop a monetary gift to help defray the costs of ornamenting the new cathedral church. Bishop Martin and his party arrived in Natchitoches on December 16. The first ordinations were performed in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1855. Jean Pierre received minor orders; Francois LeVezouet was ordained to the subdiaconate; Jean Marie Beaulieu was ordained a deacon and Mathurin Chapin was ordained a priest.
Bishop Auguste Marie Martin, 1st Bishop of Natchtioches, 1853 -1875.
‘A Time of Hope’
The Diocese of Natchitoches
From the time of his consecration as bishop in 1853 to the outbreak of the War Between the States in 1861, Bishop Martin labored to provide a regular religious life for the scattered Catholics of north Louisiana. In 1853, the Diocese of Natchitoches had 5 priests and 6 parishes; by 1860 the numbers had grown to 15 priests serving 17 parishes. Thirty-five mission chapels and mass stations dotted the countryside. Opportunities for Catholic education had expanded as well. In addition to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Natchitoches, girls’ schools were established in Shreveport, Isle Brevelle, Alexandria and Cocoville. A boys’ ‘college’ was established by the cathedral clergy in Natchitoches. Like the early missionaries, parish priests taught the classics as well as the catechism in their rectories and sacristies. Life was not easy for Bishop Martin’s young recruits. During their first summer in Louisiana they endured a severe drought and food shortages in a strange land trying to learn English and continue their theological studies in living conditions little better than the cramped slave cabins on nearby plantations. It required all the energy and generosity of their youthful faith to survive and even thrive under the hard conditions of their voluntary exile. In an effort to fill the vacant posts throughout his diocese, Bishop Martin ordained and assigned young men in their early 20's who could barely speak English to serve in isolated missions in the midst of a foreign culture with little to no practical pastoral experience.
The difficulties of missionary life, the poverty of their station and the unending labors and responsibilities of the ministry taxed Martin’s clergy, aged the young men of Brittany and drained them of their youth. At times, their inexperience and frustrations were a cause of concern for their chief shepherd who cherished his priests. To correct abuses and safeguard the future conduct of the mission, Bishop Martin gathered his priests together for a diocesan synod in 1858 to formulate rules and guidelines for the clergy and laity of the diocese. Financial difficulties hindered the work and zeal of the bishop’s ministers and religious in every area of the diocese and yet remarkable progress was made in the face of such difficulties. With aid from the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, headquartered in Paris, new churches and chapels were erected. In December 1857, plans were approved for the construction of a new cathedral in Natchitoches and construction on the new church began in 1858. New parishes were organized in the growing communities of Shreveport, Monroe, Lake Providence, Isle Brevelle and Moreauville. Bishop Martin spent himself as selflessly as did his priests. He taught catechism, gave instruction to converts, baptized babies and heard the confessions of his parishioners at the cathedral and served as spiritual director to the Religious of the Sacred Heart. He toured his diocese regularly on horseback and in his small buggy confirming large crowds; instructing and preaching throughout the northern half of the state. Because of his endless travels it is said that he spent as much time in the saddle as in his cathedral.
He was assisted by Fr. Dicharry, his vicar-general, and his secretary, Fr. Francois LeVezouet. Both of these priests also served on the faculty of St. Joseph’s College and saw to the continual education of the diocesan seminarians. Many outstanding priests served the people of the diocese in this period of growth and expansion before the war: Fr. Jean Pierre Bellier in Alexandria; Fr. Jean Baptiste Avenard in Campti; Fr. Jean Marie Beaulieu in Cloutierville; Fr. Jules Janeau in Cocoville; Fr. Thomas Rebours in Moreauville; Fr. Jean Pierre in Shreveport and Fr. Louis Gergaud in Monroe. These men left lasting impressions on their communities as they solidified the weak faith left from years of benign neglect. While other areas of the South enjoyed an economic boom during the flush times before the war, north Louisiana suffered from a series of prolonged droughts that withered the crops and ruined its credit. Unlike their neighbors to the south who grew rich on sugar cane most North Louisiana farmers scratched a living from less fertile soil growing cotton and corn. While there were rich planters along the Mississippi and on the fertile lands along Cane River and the Red most of the population lived on small struggling farms. There was little to no industry in the area and the railroad would not penetrate the region until long after the chaos of reconstruction. Steamboat traffic could not maintain a regular schedule due to the seasonal shifts in the water table of the Red River and the navigational hazards of the rapids at Alexandria. In many ways the Diocese of Natchitoches remained locked in a frontier isolation. That isolation would only increase as sectional strife tore Louisiana from the Union in January 1861.
The History of the Diocese of Alexandria - A Time of Hope
19th century French censor, Bishop Martin Museum.
The War Between The States
The election of the Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln, to the presidency in November of 1860 set off a powder keg of emotions in the Southern states including Louisiana. Following the lead of South Carolina the ‘cotton states’ of the Deep South voted to separate themselves from the Union. A new provisional government was set up in Montgomery, Alabama where representatives from the separated states elected Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States of America. Archbishop Odin of New Orleans and Bishop Martin of Natchitoches, together with many southern bishops, believed the peoples of the South were acting in defense of their constitutional rights and they supported the Southern cause but with reservations. They condemned the abuses found on many southern plantations but they refrained from condemning slavery outright as an absolute evil. Above all else, Bishop Martin feared the prospects of a war he thought
St. Hyacinth’s Church, Moreauville, 1860.
inevitable. Having grown up in France under the reign of Napoleon he knew how destructive war could be and he feared for the future of his infant diocese. Support for secession was not universal and many in north Louisiana believed they were facing ruin. Enthusiasm climbed after the assault on Fort Sumter in April of 1861 as the two nations went to war. During one of Bishop Martin’s absences, Fr. Dicharry gave an impassioned speech in defense of the Southern cause from the steps of the Natchitoches Court House and volunteered as chaplain for the 3rd Louisiana Infantry Regiment forming in the city. Short of clergy, Bishop Martin reluctantly gave his young vicar permission to follow the troops Company after company formed in every town and village in the Natchitoches diocese. Bishop Martin and his clergy heard their confessions and blessed their flags in emotional farewells passing out Miraculous Medals and scapulars. The realities of war were quickly felt on the home front particularly in rural north Louisiana. Most farms in north Louisiana were planted in corn and cotton. Groceries and food stuffs were shipped in on steamboats. Supplies quickly ran low and by 1862
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