Completed May, 1918 - Our Third Church
Chapter 3, The Third Period
The Catholic Church in Maurice, 1916-1967
Another terrific hurricane damaged the church in 1916. Again the hall was used as a temporary church until a new one was constructed. Monsignor W. J. Teurlings, in a letter of May 20, 1917 to Very Rev. J. B. Jeanmard, Administrator, said the parishioners had pledged $3,000.00 and Father Laroche himself $1,000.00. He said Maurice was very successful with its fairs, and since the church was in a dilapidated condition, he recommended the authorization of a $3,000.00 loan.
From 1917 to 1920, Father Laroche kept a book “consecrated to the countability of funds of the new church which had been built at Maurice at the location and place of the old church, which had been recently demolished.” He had written in French twelve pages on this project. On June 2, 1917 and again on July 2, Father Laroche and the trustees, Dr. J. 0. Duhon and Ben D. Broussard agreed that the church, which had been built in different series, had been greatly damaged by the storm of 1909. and was not safe and solid anymore. They asked to borrow $5,000.00, which the architect claimed was enough to build the church, providing good lumber from the old building was used. Father Laroche said the Corporation was practically out of debt and the parishioners had pledged $5,000.00. Again on August 27, 1917, another resolution was adopted by Father Laroche and the trustees to borrow $1,000.00, payable in six years at a rate of 6% interest. This was approved by Jules B. Jeanmard, Administrator, and Auxiliary Bishop J. M. Laval, Vicar General of the Diocese of New Orleans. On January 27, 1918, Rt. Rev. Msgr. W. J. Teurlings wrote Very Reverend J. B. Jeanrnard that the new church would cost over $10,000.00. Altogether $6,000.00 had been borrowed, but there was a need for an additional loan of $1 ,000.00. Msgr. Teurlings, rector of the Cathedral, replied that $7,000.00 borrowed out of $10,000.00 was not very good, but the new church needed to be completed. He stated the very bad and cold weather had upset the fairs, but spring would be a good time for another one. The loyal parishioners rallied around Father Laroche, and under his zealous direction, multiplied their sacrifices and good works for the building of a new church— the second? (third) St. Alphonsus Church.
The plans and specifications completed by the architect, William G. Harold, were of a solid and convenient church. The foundation was laid in September 1917. Difficulties encountered during the following months were finding workers to build and carriers to haul the materials. Remember, this was during World War I. The able young who would have helped with the hauling and building had gone to war.
During the feast of Easter 1918, the parishioners were able to enter and attend Mass in the new church that was finally completed in May, 1918.
About paying the debt, Father Laroche said that the parishioners from the north end of the parish were almost all willing to subscribe, but those from the east were rather unwilling. Most of the parishioners who were good Catholics were very generous. The crops harvested in August and September were so abundant and brought in such high prices that no one wanted to work on anything but their crops.
The total cost of the church building was $11,367.75. This included all the expenses to complete the church: paint inside and outside, pews; altar; statues; colored windows; paintings; 5% for the architect; other school expenses; and rearrangement of the hall used as the temporary church. This cost which seemed high was caused by the purchase of materials and labor because of the War.
A large part of the materials for the construction of the church was furnished by P. U. Broussard of Abbeville. The work of the carpenters was under the direction of J. B. Mouton of Lafayette. The masonry (pillars and bases of concrete) was done by the assistants of J. B. Gucherau of Lafayette. Except for a few mistakes in details, in general all the work was conscientiously well done. The architect and Father supervised all the work. The specific plans were followed, especially those concerning the solidity of the church. A slight modification of the plans was made in the facade. Due to lack of money, wood was used for the steps instead of concrete.
In 1918, the year of the completion of the church, Father Laroche was able to pay half of the interest on the $12,000.00 loan. The payment on the other half was guaranteed by several subscribers and also by the annual fairs that were given by the parishioners.
The new church that was opened for the feast of Easter 1918 was solemnly blessed in 1919. With the creation of the new diocese of Lafayette and the consecration of Monsignor Jeanmard as Bishop, blessing of the church was set for April 30, 1919. The parishioners planned for the Mass and Pontifical blessing. But on the morning of April 30, a heavy rain prevented the Bishop and numerous priests from coming to Maurice. The blessing was rescheduled for May 31, on the day of confirmation. In spite of the heavy rains of previous days which caused bad roads, a large crowd assisted at these ceremonies. Upon the arrival of the Bishop in front of the Church, Mr. C. D. Trahan welcomed him in the name of the parish. After the blessing and benediction, Bishop Jeanmard complimented the pastor and the faithful in having succeeded, in spite of all the difficulties, in building this beautiful church, a testimony of the religious faithful of Maurice.
After having succeeded in putting up a solid church convenient for a large number of parishioners, it seemed that the old bell which served the old church was no longer convenient for the new church. It had, in fact, been broken and the sound was no longer pleasant. It resounded like it was stuffed with hay, so Father Laroche decided to buy a new bell for the new church. Father Laroche called the parishioners and asked for donations or other methods to raise money. The parishioners did what was necessary to raise money. Many responded to that call. Father Laroche listed the people who donated and the amount given. The bell was ordered from A. Mennely of New York in January 1920. The bell was received in April and was installed near the communion rail for the blessing and benediction. The donations made up about one—fourth of the cost of the bell. Several fairs were given to pay for the bell, which had cost $989.74. The freight was $133.17. This bell weighed 900 pounds and with the mounting 1,000 pounds.
The following inscription is on the bottom around. A.D. 1920. In the middle of the face the following verse is inscribed:
Je m’apple Louise (I am called Louise)
En branle je suis mise (In ringing I am placed)
Pour que priere on dise (For praying we say)
Ensemble dans l’eglise (Together in the church)
In the middle of the other side the following verse is inscribed:
Votre amis je’serai (Your friend I will be)
Chretiens des 1e berceau (Christians from the cradle)
Pour vous je sonnerai (For you I will ring)
Jusqui a votre tombeau (until your death).
Benediction of this bell took place on Thursday, April 22, at 10.00 A.M. by Bishop J. B. Jeanmard, assisted by and in the presence of a large number of priests and parishioners. The godfather of the bell was C. D. Trahan, and the godmother was Mrs. Jean Villien.
In the early 20th century, it was almost “a tradition” that Catholic men did not go to Mass. They brought their wives and children in buggies and stayed outside to watch their horses and buggies and to gossip. When they did come in, they stood in the back of church through Mass. In his book One Mile an hour, Father Teurlings, in his first years in Lafayette said, “Spiritually the church in this area was decidedly immature.”
Until the Diocese of Lafayette was established, the parish was under the authority of the Archbishop of New Orleans. The Diocese of Lafayette was established by Pope Benedict XV on January 1, 1918. The area, which included thirteen civil parishes of Southwest Louisiana, had been part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Most Reverend Jules B. Jeanmard, D.D., a native son, was appointed the first Bishop of Lafayette, July 18, 1918. He had been ordained on June 10, 1903, for the Archdiocese and served as chancellor and secretary to Archbishop Blenk, Seventh Archbishop of the New Orleans Diocese (1906—1917). After the death of the Archbishop, for thirteen months Jeanmard was administrator of the Archdiocese until a new archbishop was appointed, lie was consecrated bishop on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in New Orleans. Elaborate preparations were made for his arrival and installation in Lafayette on December 12, 1918, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
On November 13, 1918, Bishop Jeanmard made the bishop’s regular visitation and administered confirmation to a class of 150, of which 33 were black. He noted the children showed improvement over the last class of two years ago. Some ladies were helping teach catechism and also helping maintain order in the church. In a report on his visitation to be attached to the baptismal registry as a permanent record, Bishop Jeanmard made the following recommendations:
1. Two Masses should be said on Sunday;
2. Children’s confessions should be heard on Ember days for those who have not made their Private Communion;
3. Benediction must be given on Sundays as well as on feast days;
4. Since there are no pews for those who cannot afford to rent them, he commanded the pastor to put the unrented pew’s back into the church and see that proper provision was made for the poor people. Bishop Jeanmard stated, “How strangely at variance this is from the spirit of Christ who so loved the poor!”
Bishop Jeanmard served the Diocese of Lafayette until March 13, 1956, when he resigned. He died February 23, 1957.
In 1921 the annual report for St. Alphonsus listed 10 ushers, 64 Ladies Altar Society members and Bonne Morte members numbered 59.
On September 5, 1922, the chapel at Leroy became a separate parish under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Reverend Gommer Eugene Joseph Maurice Veekmans, its first pastor, decorated the church and the rectory with his artistic works. Father Veekmans would later become pastor at St. Alphonsus. This new parish in Leroy was carved out of the parishes of Maurice, Abbeville and Kaplan. One of the greatest hardships mentioned was the isolation of Leroy, especially in winter when the heavy rains made the dirt roads impassable. The people of Leroy were hopeful that Vermilion Parish would soon have gravel roads to make travel possible in winter.
After serving Maurice for fourteen years, Father Laroche retired July 5, 1924, and returned to France. He corresponded with Mr. Hillaire Broussard, and in a letter in French dated February 1, 1928, he states he is very ill, but is happy to have news from Maurice. He died February 3, 1931.
Father Laroche was followed by Reverend Francis A. Buquet. A copy of the transfer of the parish from Father Laroche to Father Buquet, dated July 12, 1924, states that he gives the incoming pastor the powers and rights of which he was provided when he became pastor. The transfer document listed the following:
1. Immovable property included about 10 acres of land and the buildings, which consisted of the church, presbytery, hail, gashouse and outhouses;
2. Movable property was one bedstead, one dresser, one safe, one library table and one folding bed;
3. Two fire insurance policies provided coverage of $2,000.00 for the house and $5,000.00 for the church,
4. Three baptismal record books, three marriage record books and one funeral book were listed;
5. Pew rent for ten months was also listed.
Father Laroche listed all the furniture in the house as his as well as a garage (20 x 22).
Father Buquet was born in France on October 4, 1866. He had been ordained in France in 1890, and came to the New Orleans Diocese in 1897. He was a masterful cook and boarded young boys at the rectory. His administration lasted from July 10, 1924 to October 23,1926. Upon his retirement in October, 1927, Father Buquet returned to Nice, France, where he died May 28, 1935.
Reverend Francis R. Gerboud (sometimes Jabeaux), a missionary of LaSalette, was pastor from November 13, 1926 to October 29, 1927. In 1945, he was chaplain at the Most Holy Sacrament Convent in Lafayette.
In a letter dated November 29, 1926, Father Gerboud to Father Vigliero, Chancelier of the diocese, telling of one dance hall in Maurice and two in Leroy. H said they were well chaperoned by constables, police officers, and it was very strict. Father goes on to tell about the young girls “who go outside the dance halls in automobiles, in the dark, and there are always too many bootleggers outside to make money.” He thinks the responsibility falls on the fathers, mothers and brothers to chaperon when the young girls become “enamored” and leave the hall. He states “the parents are the ones most guilty and they deserve correction, but it is too late to act now; the trouble is too far gone and their faith is too weak!”
On November 5, 1927, Reverend Pierre Marie Gruel became pastor. He was born in Pennes, France in 1864, and ordained there in 1888. He came to Louisiana in 1912. With the excellent cooperation of his trustees, C. D. Trahan and J. C. Broussard, he was able to erect a rectory. A copy of a questionnaire about the parish was filled out by Father Gruel. Many of the parishioners sixty years and older remember the hour-long catechism classes after Sunday Masses which usually lasted two hours, made particularly difficult in the cold winter months. The ladies taught and reviewed the lessons, but Father Gruel did the testing! Under vocations to the priesthood, he lists Reverend Albert Bacque (ordained June 10, 1933) and two young seminarians: T. Joseph and T. Benedict. Father Gruel also furnished information about the parish to Roger Baudier for his hook, The Catholic Church in Louisiana.
On September 27, 1928, on the Bishop’s official visitation, he noted the catechism children showed strictly ordinary knowledge. He noted that in the past, the children were sadly deficient in the preparation and knowledge of Christian Doctrine, he urged the pastor to enlist the services of some Catholic women who were school teachers.
For a short interim in 1929, Father Joseph Roman, a Marist, served our parish. He was in Algiers from 1892 to 1896, and in Cottonport from 1904 to 1913. No other information on exactly when or why he replaced Father Gruel can be found. Perhaps he replaced Father Gruel when he returned to France for a visit with his family. Consider that a trip across the ocean in those days took a very long time. Another possibility was that Father Gruel was ill and on sick leave.
Father Albert Bacque, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bacque, was the first priest from the parish. He was ordained June 10, 1933, and said his first Mass in Maurice the next day. He served the diocese for many years. He died September 3, 1992.
A letter written on Villien Brothers stationery, dated October 5,1935, to Bishop Jeanmard from Mr. C. D. Trahan, states that the letter concerning the dance was handed to him for an explanation. Mr. Trahan, one of the organizers of the fair, said Father Gruel had told the group not to have a dance in connection with the fair. He said the fair committee ran ads in the Lafayette and Abbeville papers, had posters made, but had no plans for a dance. At the end of the fair, the younger generation insisted on dancing, so he agreed to let them dance, leaving some responsible person to supervise. He apologized and said he would take his penance. He said it was not Father Gruel who was responsible. A note front the Bishop’s office, written on the back of this letter, answered Mr. Trahan. The note states that the news story in the Advertiser about the dance caused a great deal of surprise in view of the well known prohibition.
Father Gruel’s list of honorary members of the Association of Christian Doctrine included seven husbands and wives. He listed school teachers who were teaching catechism, those who were teaching every Sunday and a long list of members (women) who taught catechism at home.
As mentioned earlier, this community has always been close-knit--one large family. And with Leroy not becoming a parish until 1922, families from that area belonged to St. Alphonsus Parish. We claim them as part of our family. Most of them were baptized, made their First Communion and Confirmation, and were married here.
Sister Edith Trahan, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Sevignier Trahan, is one of these. Sister’s mother died at her birth on March 10, 1916, and she was adopted by her aunt and uncle, the late Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Broussard. She was baptized by Father Louis Laroche. She attended Catholic schools in Rayne and Abbeville, until she entered the convent of the Sisters of Mt. Cannel in 1931. She taught for 56 years, retired in 1988 and afterwards worked in St. Joseph Parish in Rayne, bringing Holy Communion to the shut-ins and visiting the sick. Sister Edith died on October 23, 1995 and was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Rayne, La. on October 26th.
On the occasion of Father Gruel’s golden jubilee to the priesthood, June 29, 1938, he was made an honorary canon of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette.
The pastor’s annual report of 1938 listed a Boy Scout troop with 18 members. Wallace Broussard was one of these. The pastor’s yearly salary was $1,250.00 for the year as compared to 1863, the first allowance for pastors was set at $1,200.00 per annum by Archbishop Jean Marie Odin. Assistant pastors received $300.00 to be furnished by the pastor, who also was to furnish board, lodging, working and lights.
Father kept a list of Young Men in the “American Army.” He added a second page, dated November 28, 1942, including all branches of service. Seven black men are included, but no women. We know at least one parishioner served her country. Jeanne Dartez Ferguson was a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 -1946.
It was a custom that the ringing of the church bell, during times other than the Angelus, was to summon people to church to tell them the news and to pray. One occasion remembered is during World War II when Edward Broussard was reported missing in action. But a few days later, word was received that he had been wounded in action.
The crucifix hanging behind the main altar was donated in memory of Dallas L. Comeaux, who was killed during World War II. The statue of St. Alphonsus inside the church was given in memory of Joseph Dewey Broussard, who also was killed in World War II.
The 1943 CCD program listed 60 parents helping teach catechism.
Father Gruel retired June 16, 1945, and died September 15, 1946. He is buried in the church cemetery beside the large crucifix.
For almost a year, from May 15, 1945 to March 3, 1946, Father Clifford Gaudin served our parish. A native of Jeanerette, Father Gaudin was Vice Chancellor—Secretary of the diocese from 1939 through 1946. He retired in 1982 and lived in Consolata home in New Iberia. In May 1993 he was honored for serving our diocese for 60 years.
Reverend Gommer Eugene Joseph Maurice Veekmans became pastor on March 26, 1946. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1890, and ordained at the Jesuit College there in 1915. He entered the diocese in 1921. He was a sculptor, accomplished artist, and collector of oil paintings. His annual report for 1946 listed 600 parishioners, 12 CCD teachers, 68 Ladies Altar Society members and 15 members belonging to Abbeville and Lafayette Knights of Columbus. He had a studio in his rectory. In 1947 Father Veekmans was a Prosynodal Judge.
Under his artistic guidance, the church was completely remodeled, with Father Veekmans doing all the art work himself. A special meeting of the Board of Directors of the Corporation was called on February 7, 1951. Father Veekmans submitted to the trustees, Dr. Harold Trahan and Mr. Bruce Mouton that the church was badly in need of repairs. Approved by Bishop Jeanmard and Father W. J. Teurlings, Vice President of the Board, a loan was made for $12,000.00. New statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, a baptismal font and new Stations of the Cross were purchased. The first Stations of the Cross were given to St. Joseph Church after it was constructed. A new church hall (very much smaller than the one built in 1909) was constructed in 1951, and is the building standing nearest the cemetery at the present time and serving as a School of Religion.
St. Joseph became a separate parish for the blacks in June of 1948, under the faithful leadership and diligent efforts of Reverend Francis Wade, who was pastor from June, 1946 to 1954. Up until this time, the black population had shared St. Alphonsus Church, not equally and sometimes not very kindly. An agreement was made between the Diocese of Lafayette and the Society of the Divine Word to organize this new parish. St. Alphonsus Hall was used for Sunday Masses and St. Alphonsus Church for funerals, weddings and baptisms before their church was built. Land for St. Joseph was purchased from Doris Catalon. A surplus army chapel from Camp Claiborne was purchased with money borrowed from the diocese. The parish had 150 families with 250 — 300 people at Sunday Mass. Father Wade was confident in 1946 that the people would work for their parish, and he was right— —the people today are still working for their parish.
Pope Pius XII proclaimed 1950 the Holy Year of Prayer. He was Pope from 1939 to 1958.
Warren Trahan, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Trahan, ordained a Benedictine monk at St. Joseph Abbey on May 19, 1951, said his first Mass on May 24, 1951.
Father Veekmans served until November 14, 1953, died February 26, 1954, and is buried in the cemetery alongside Father Gruel near the crucifix.
Reverend Louis Joseph Napoleon Bertrand, a native of Quebec, Canada, became rector on March 3, 1954. He was born in 1900, ordained in 1931 in Montreal, and entered the diocese in 1931. He was an assistant at St. Anthony’s in Eunice and pastor in Duson from 1932 to 1953.
On November 27, 1955, the Board of Directors authorized Father Bertrand to contact the Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, to buy an electric system for the church bells for the price of $1,490.00.
Most Reverend Maurice Schexnayder, D.D., who had been ordained April 11, 1925, was appointed Second Bishop of the Lafayette Diocese on March 13,1956, installed on May 24, 1956; resigned November 7, 1972, and died January 23, 1981.
On June 18, 1956, a questionnaire was sent by Bishop Schexnayder to the pastors to evaluate the changes that had taken place during Holy Week. Father Bertrand reported the reaction of the people to the restored order of ceremonies was enthusiastic. He said more people attended the blessing of the palms, Holy Thursday Communion doubled from the last year, attendance at Good Friday service doubled and the holy Saturday vigil was well-attended.
Father George Howard Simon, our third native priest was ordained June 8, 1957, and said his first Mass in St. Alphonsus the next day. He is the son of Mrs. Lydea Simon and the late Mr. Simon.
For many years, when holy days of obligation were on school days, all of the students who wanted to, attended Mass at 8:30 a.m. Also, one day a week elementary children were excused from school one—half hour in the morning to be able to attend catechism. The community, being similar to a very close—knit family, and because it was almost entirely Catholic, these practices did not seem a bit strange. Perhaps these practices were the outgrowth of the earlier desires for more religious schooling, as evidenced by the records—in 1907, the Bishop’s report strongly recommended a parochial school. In 1909 Father Chambon mentioned he wanted to build a parochial school.
Father Bertrand had begun earlier to save money for a new church. On May 31, 1966, he submitted to the Board of Directors that the present church structure was beyond repair, and a new church should be constructed on substantially the same site. He was authorized to borrow a sum not to exceed $100,000.00.
In his transfer of the parish in 1967, he listed no outstanding bills, with investments of $105,754.83 and a bank balance of $8,828.15. The church records he listed from 1893 to 1967 included 9 baptismal volumes, 1 communion, 2 confirmation, 4 marriage and 2 burial volumes.
Due to poor health, Father Bertrand retired on June 1, 1967, and lived quietly in Rayne, La. until his death in 1996. He was buried in the mausoleum at St. Alphonsus, here in Maurice.