Built 1892 with 1st Mass Jan. 15, 1893
Our Early Beginnings
The Catholic Church in Louisiana, 1720-1899
The establishment of the Catholic Church in Maurice begins with the early church in the Louisiana territory. Church archives list the first record of a priest in New Orleans in 1720.
As the people moved to outer territories, missionaries and priests from established parishes visited these outlying areas. It was not until 1765 that a regular parish was established in St. Martinville, about the time of the arrival of the Acadians.
Through the labors of many devoted priests who instructed the settlers and preached the word of God, the church continued to spread and increase with the founding of the Diocese of Louisiana and New Orleans as the See City on July 17, 1793. 1993 marked the Bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
As years went by, missions were established in Grand Coteau, Opelousas and Vermilionville (Lafayette), and eventually the parish of St. Charles of Grand Coteau, which included all this area west of the Vermilion River from Vermilionville south to the Gulf of Mexico, was formed on April 29, 1819.
On May 15, 1822, the new parish of St. John the Evangelist broke away from Grand Coteau, encompassing territory from Lafayette south to the Gulf of Mexico and as far west as Lake Charles.
St. May Magdalen Church Parish in Abbeville was established in 1843. From 1866—69, Father T. L. Lamy visited the far—flung sections of the parish as far as the Sahine River. Lake Charles was a mission of Abbeville. Father Lamy and his successors said Mass in the homes of residents on their once-a-month visits to these outer areas. Roger Boudier, in The Catholic Church in Louisiana on page 147 states that “At stations (places where church services were held in any convenient locale) of Cossinade, Mauriceville, Bancker and Meadow (now Delcambre), Mass was said periodically by a priest from Abbeville.”
In 1870 Reverend Alexander Mehault became pastor in Abbeville. Under his able administration, the immense territory of his parish was divided into four ecclesiastical parishes. In Maurice, until a church was built, Sunday services were held in a small private schoolhouse located on Maurice Villien ‘s property.
The ten acre site in Section 11 of Township 11, on which the church and rectory here in Maurice were to be built, was donated by a prominent family, Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Villien. The original act of donation is on file in the Vermilion Parish Clerk of Court’s office, recorded in Volume 1 of Donations and Testaments, at Page 63, No. 63, on May 29, 1889. The donation dated May 28, 1889, was from Maurice Villien to Reverend Francis Janssens, Archbishop of New Orleans:
“in consideration of the good will he bears toward all institution(s) of good morals and the interest he feels in the Catholic religion “for the use and benefit and for the purpose of erecting thereon, a building for the use and benefit of the Catholic Church, the following
described property, to—wit:
"One certain tract or parcel of land, situated in the parish of Vermilion, and lying in the northeastern portion of the Southeast Quarter of Section Eleven, Township Eleven South of Range Three East, measuring Ten chains, square and containing Ten Superficial Acres.
(Note: 1 chain = 66 feet)
The tract herein described lying and contiguous to the public road on the east and its northern limits being distanced four chains from the Northern line of said quarter section.
Also one building situated thereon.
The donor, Maurice Villien, further declared that in case it should become necessary to build a church elsewhere in the neighborhood, then in that case this act of donation was to be null and void. The donor further agreed and stipulated that the land therein donated or any portion thereof shall not be signed and sold under any circumstances whatever, and further, should the burial ground or cemetery be located on the tract therein donated, the said Donor reserved to himself and family a plot of ground ten feet square on said tract.
The donation was executed before Alcide LeBlanc, Clerk of the District Court as Notary Public, and before Columbus E. Broussard and Clairville Blanchet as witnesses.
An error was made in the donation in the property description, so on December 3, 1907, Mrs. Maurice Villien and her sons, Jean and Joseph, executed an act of correction of the donation recorded on May 29, 1889. Maurice Villien had died in 1902. The description erroneously stated Southeast Quarter of Section 11, when it should have stated the Northeast Quarter of Section 11, and the court records were thus changed to this effect.
In January 1893, during the pastorate of Father S. E. Forge at St. John’s in Lafayette (1881— 1905) and Father Mehault at Abbeville (1870 — 1890), a part of each of their parishes was formed into a new parish (now St. Alphonsus) by Most Reverend Francis Janssens, Fifth Archbishop of New Orleans Diocese (1888—1897). When Archbishop Janssens came into this area for the dedication of new parishes, the welcomes were very impressive, gala occasions. Typical South Louisiana touches with enthusiastic welcome addresses, volleys, and dinners at homes of some prominent planters were the custom used to dedicate new chapels.
The first Mass in St. Alphonsus Parish was celebrated January 15, 1893. The new parish at Maurice had its church dedicated to St. Alphonsus de Liguori. Archbishop Janssens sent Father C. P. Alphonse LeQuillene as first rector, He was installed in a very modest house ($1,400) near the simple chapel that stood beside the road from Lafayette to Abbeville. The first church was known as “La Chapelle a Maurice.” Father LeQuillene served from January 15 to October 23,1893. The first baptism listed in the register, dated January 23, 1893, was Joachim Daigle, son of Adam Daigle and Azelina Duhon. However, the first child baptized was on Januaty 22, 1893, and she is listed second in the record book, Matilde Dora Broussard, daughter of Albert Broussard and Cecile Broussard. The first death, recorded on Februaty 5, was Etienne Fernes Clark. The first wedding, February 6, united Joseph Cormier, son of Joseph Cormier and Melanie Ainsce, and Elise Broussard, minor and legitimate daughter of Pierre Broussard and Belzire Meaux. On Palm Sunday, March 26, 1893, the pews at the Catholic church at Mauriceville were sold for the first time. A bazaar for benefit of the church on April 19, 1893, netted $75.00 profit.
Dated June 6, 1893, a page from a ledger kept by Father LeQuillene gives the “Limits of our Parish.” From Abbeville side he listed for the boundaries: Adolph Duhon, Jules Dartez, August Vincent, Lastie Hebert, Severine Hebert, Nunia Hebert, Mozard LeBlanc, John Abshire, Victor Landry, Brunot Broussard and Ursin Broussard. In the direction of Coulee des Cannes to the plateau in front of Madam Paul Rouxel to the road at Amedee Boudreau. From the Lafayette side the channel of Desire Montet and continuing to he extremes of the west (Bayou—Queue—Tortue) to Bayou Vermilion and a line straight to Paul Duhon— this is the new parish. He recorded, in French, that these are the regulations and dictates of Monsignor Janssens, Archbishop. He also recorded on Tuesday, June 6,1893, children were tested; Confirmation was on June 7 with 18 confirmants; First Communion on March 18 had 94 children.
No known record of how the church was named has been found but perhaps the first pastor had some influence. Father LeQuillene was named after St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori, a famous bishop, confessor and doctor of the church. St. Alphonsus was born near Naples, Italy in 1699. He is renowned as a great moral theologian and founder of the congregation of priests known as the Redemptorist Order. His writings and prayers are numerous. Note the cover of our Mass program denotes “Patron of Prayer.” St. Alphonsus insisted in simple preaching and unhurried celebration of the Eucharist, and he sought to bring back sinners by patience and moderation. He died in 1787 and was canonized in 1839. August 2 is his feast day. Although the first few years’ records used the spelling “Alphonse’, after 1900 all the church records are spelled “Alphonsus.” Read about St. Alphonsus under "Patron Saint" on this website
In November 1893, Father Ferdinand Grimaud, hero of the Cheniere Carminada disaster, succeeded Father LeQuillene. With the offerings and efforts of his parishioners, Father Grimaud completed the church and the rectory and established a cemetery. He was born in Honnet, France on March 3,1855, ordained on June 24, 1878, and entered the New Orleans diocese on March 1, 1889. On April 20, 1920, Father Grimaud was honored with the title Recteur Benemerite.
Father Grimaud had been stationed at Grand Isle and Cheniere Carminada when a terrific hurricane struck. Winds of 100 miles an hour blew for 48 hours, causing a tidal wave over the islands. Father saved himself by clinging to floating wreckage. The rectory was one of the few buildings still standing. Father Grimaud performed over 400 funeral services. It was said that he never recovered from the shock of the tragedy he had witnessed. Tears came to his eyes every time he heard church bells ring.
Church fairs in the early days were a popular method of raising money for the church. Sometimes several fairs were held in one year. A bazaar and concert were held on October 14, 1894 for the benefit of the Catholic Church in Mauriceville. A fair in 1897 netted $307.65. In 1898 a fair for enlarging the church netted $200.00. A bill of $94.00 was paid to the Bank of Abbeville for the addition to the church. In 1899 the fair made $194.90.
The charter for St. Alphonsus Parish is dated August 7, 1894, and states that “the Corporation be known, designated and styled The Congregation of St. Alphonse Roman Catholic Church of the Parish of Vermilion, State of Louisiana. The corporation shall be managed, administered and controlled by a Board of five directors. The first board to be composed of the Most Reverend Francis Janssens, Reverend John B. Bogaerts, Vicar General, the Reverend Joseph Grimaud, Pastor, and J. Theophile Broussard and Maurice Villien, members of the Congregation. The Corporation is formed without capital stock and is to exist and continue for five hundred years.” This charter was recorded in Volume 6, Folio 221, Number 29555 on June 21, A.D. 1895.
On May 14, 1896, Archbishop Francis Janssens transferred the property donated to him by Maurice Villien to the Congregation of St. Alphonse Roman Catholic Church.
In those early days, the method used for setting church parish boundaries was not an exact science, yet the pastors were very concerned about the boundaries. On June 13,1896, Archbishop Janssens sent Father Grimaud a letter giving him the boundaries made in November, 1894, between Rayne and Lafayette. His letter states that Father Grimaud can figure for himself from the copy he has of the boundaries, if the priest from Rayne has taken any territory from his parish.
December 20, 1896, Father Mehault from Abbeville wrote Father Grimaud a letter giving him the boundaries of St. Alphonsus by naming residents of the area. Names included Rousseau Broussard, Marcel Landry, Alexander Landry, Julien Simon, John Abshire, Ambrose Duhon, Homer Broussard, Victor Landry, Oscar Bourque and Albert Hebert.
The annual report to the diocese in 1897 listed a church population of 1,400 and 1200 received communion. The pastor’s yearly salary was $1,200.00. Total receipts were $1,336.00 and total expenses were $1,660.86.
Father Grimaud served in Maurice until 1899 and was then transferred to Carencro. An interesting story was often told that Mrs. Maurice Villien bought a statue of the Blessed Virgin and brought it to Father Grimaud in her husband’s hack. Father Grimaud returned to France in 1920 and died September 15, 1946.