History of The Church of The Assumption of B.V.M.
The records list the ecclesiastical foundation as “The Parish of the Assumption of Our Lady of La Fourche of the Chetimaches of Valenzuela.”
The point where a stream branched off from the Mississippi River, where the town of Donaldsonville now stands, was given the name of “LaFourche des Chetimaches.” The Indians who lived at that point belonged to the Chetimaches tribe.
Assumption Parish dates to April, 1793 during the Spanish regime, practically the same time as the Diocese of New Orleans was erected.
When the Acadian exiles drifted into Louisiana and settled at many points, some moved down Bayou LaFourche to start farming on the rich soil there.
In 1781, the Spanish government attempted to colonize the vast empire of Louisiana, which it had inherited from the King of France. Colonists were recruited from the Canary Islands and several vessels brought groups of these people to Louisiana in the Spanish regime. Governor Galvez notified the Spanish government in 1781 that he had established “Five Little Places” with settlers sent to the Colony. One of these was Valenzuela on Bayou Lafourche. Governor Miro brought some Acadians to Valenzuela in 1785.
Because of a growing population at that point, a military post was established at Valenzuela near the present-day Belle Alliance. Spanish officials were to provide farming equipment, land, and a Church in the center of the new post.
This proviso was carried out at several of the new settlements but not at Valenzuela. The people there desired to have their own Church, because the Ascension Church was too distant and too difficult to reach. Don Nicolas Verret was appointed Commandante of the Post of Valenzuela and Captain of the Militia. The settlers petitioned him to ask the Spanish Crown to build a church for them. The people were desirous of bearing the cost, but Governor Miro did not think they could do so. He asked the Spanish government to make necessary grants of land for the Church and to have one erected. This request was carried out in 1793. The first Church was a little more than a shack, with Father Bernardo de Deva, a Spanish Capuchin Friar, as first pastor. The first Church of the Assumption (1793) was located at the site of the shed near the present Church. This new Church was placed under the invocation of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The new parish registers were opened by Father de Deva on April 20, 1793. The first insertion was on April 24, to record the baptism of Ambroiso Dugas. It is indicated that Father de Deva served the whole lower Bayou Lafourche section during this time.
On May 25, 1796, the first visit of a Bishop to the parish occurred, when Bishop Penelaver y Cardenew, first Bishop of Louisiana, made the visitation, Father de Deva at times served Donaldsonville and Plattenville.
When the Louisiana colony was taken over by the U.S. Government, the Spanish missionary friars returned to Spain. Not Father de Deva, however. He stayed, became a secular priest, and continued to serve the Lafourche section. During his leadership, a board of Church wardens was formed and the parish was incorporated on April 7, 1811, over the signature of the Territorial Governor, William C. Claiborne, Louisiana’s first governor.
In 1817 the wardens of the church voted to build a better church. A notice of this was posted on the front door of the Church for three weeks. The cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1818, with Father Bernardo de Deva officiating.
Father de Deva had retired in 1806 and Father Henri Boutin took charge. Shortly after, Father Boutin drowned in Bayou Lafourche and was buried in Assumption cemetery. He was followed by a French priest, Father Jean Marie Rochanson, from 1806 to 1808. Father de Deva came out of retirement to serve the parish again, to be followed by Father Bigeschi and a Lazarist, Father Tichitoli. Then Father Jean Coretta C.M., took charge through 1829.
Between 1830 and 1832 several priests served the Church of the Assumption. They were Father Charles De La Croix, Father August Jeanjean, Father A.L. Ladaviere, S.J., and Father J.F. Deapeur, C.M.
In 1825, an American congregation, named the Sisters of Loretta at the Foot of the Cross, opened a school at Plattenville. As they lacked full knowledge of French, it was difficult to work with the parishioners. Therefore, they turned it over in 1828 to religious of the Sacred Heart Sisters from Convent, Louisiana. They, in turn, gave way to the Sisters of Mount Carmel, a pioneer foundation of this order in the state. The Sisters of Mt. Carmel were sent to Plattenville in 1833 during the pastorship of Father Charles Boutelow de St. Aubin. Father Boutelow had been obliged to flee from France during a revolt there. This was the Mt. Carmel sisters’ first house to be established in Louisiana.
In 1831, Bishop de Nickers, C.M., Bishop of New Orleans, made the visitation and suggested some improvements to the parish plant and properties.
In 1835, Bishop Antoine Blanc was installed as Ordinary of the New Orleans Diocese. The establishment of a diocesan seminary was one of his plans. There was opposition to the location of the seminary at New Orleans because of the frequent yellow fever epidemics.
Bishop Blanc chose the Plattenville area for its healthy climate, beautiful location, and good spirit of the people. A two-story brick building was erected near the present Assumption Church.
The first Church of the Assumption, built in 1793, was located at the site of a shed near the present church. The second church, built in 1818, was a brick building 40 feet long, 38 feet wide, and 16 feet high, with 14-inch walls and 24-inch buttresses. It was located two squares further down the bayou. The seminary was located two squares above the present building. This was the first and only complete seminary in the history of the New Orleans Diocese.
The Vincentian Fathers staffed the seminary and served the church parish as well. The seminary burned to the ground in 1855, but the Vincentian priests continued in the parish until 1858. The second church and remains of the seminary had been swept away by onrushing flood waters of Bayou LaFourche. No trace of the buildings were found.
Father Rouquette, a native of New Orleans, studied at the Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul at Plattenville in 1842. He was ordained by Archbishop Blanc at St. Louis Cathedral in 1845 and was the first secretary to the Bishop until 1859, when he began his missionary work with the Indians. He was the first native-born priest of Louisiana. He worked with the Choctaw Indians in the Lacombe area of Louisiana, until he died in 1887 from a fever thought to have been caused from impure water.
The present Church was built and dedicated in 1856. The bricks on the present Church were made at Plattenville of clay from the land which is now the Lee Verret Farm, but was then owned by Joseph Aucoin. At the time of building in 1856, the land was owned by Severin Landry. Bishop Blanc, appointed Father A. Merecheaux, a diocesan priest, as pastor of Assumption Church. He served the parish faithfully until 1865. For a short time Father Cyprian Veyrat from Labadieville took care of Plattenville.
Finally, in 1865, Archbishop Odin called Father Jules Bouchet from Pierre Part and assigned him as pastor of Assumption Church. Father Bouchet is still well-remembered by parishioners for his militant and zealous work on behalf of the parish. For forty-seven years he directed the affairs of the parish with paternal energy. He demanded reverence and obedience for the Church and her laws. One os his great interests was the parish Church he cared for and protected most meticulously. If the Church remains completely preserved to this day, it is due in great measure to his endless care and great love. He was honored by being designated as a Honorary Canon of the New Orleans Cathedral. Canon Bouchet, old and ill, retired in 1912. He died in 1913 and was buried at Plattenville, which he had served so long and so well, Many are the well-loved memories and oft-told tales about life under Father Bouchet.
Father John A Francon was appointed to be the next pastor of Assumption Church in 1912, where he served thirty six years. When he retired, His Excellency Archbishop Rummel designated Father Henry W.J. Holleman as pastor of historic Assumption Church, opening another era in the history of the ancient colonial parish of Louisiana.
The Church of Assumption of Plattenville gave its name to the Civil Parish of which it now forms a part. The present Church has welcomed every Archbishop of New Orleans since the days of Archbishop Blanc.
The Church was completely renovated and redecorated during Father Holleman’s tenure as pastor from 1948 until 1953. Along with work on the church, a new rectory was built which also houses a meeting hall and small chapel. This building used cypress removed form the old convent store that was torn down.
Father Holleman was responsible for improvements to the cemetery and cane land. During this time Plattenville had only 129 families; therefore, Father Holleman initiated the church fairs for which Plattenville was so well known.
When Father Holleman was transferred, he was succeeded in 1953 by Rev. Anthony J. Rousso. Father John A. Weber followed in 1955 and was succeeded by Father Joseph E. McLaughlin who served from 1956 to 1962.
On November 9, 1961, the day after his installation as Bishop of Baton Rouge and the establishment of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, it seemed fitting, or appropriate, to this historic parish, that the first Bishop of the newly formed Diocese, the Most Rev. Robert E. Tracy, D.C., accompanied by the Most Rev. Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, would come for a visit. The Parish has been visited by all bishops since the first.
Father Clayton Breaux served as Administrator for a short period in 1958 when Father Mclaughlin became ill.
Father Charles A. Speaker succeeded Father McLaughlin in 1962.
In March, 1966, Father Henry Vavasseur became Administrator.
The hurricanes of 1964 and 1965 badly damaged the church building. Again, the parishioners worked hard and diligently to repair, paint, and renovate the church. The old Church hall, located across the street from the present rectory, was torn down in 1965.
Improvements done during Father Vavasseur’s administration included the roof, support beams, waterproofing, and new front doors. The renovation included the reorientation of the church’s interior in accordance with the dictates of Vatican Council II. Central air conditioning and heating was installed. The new altar of Texas shell stone and other new items in the church was done at a cost of approximately $145,000.00.
Wood from the old altar was preserved in the form of shelving for the tabernacle and for the Holy Oils.
This work was completed under the care of Father Vavasseur and turned over to Monsignor Hermann Lohmann in 1970. Msgr. Lohmann was reassigned to St. Anthony’s in Baton Rouge in June., 1982.
Father Kenneth W. Laird became the new pastor on June 23, 1982. Under Father Laird’s pastorship, further renovations were made to the cemetery and the church. Due to the high cost of utilities, it was at this time that the “Petite Chapelle de l’ Assomption” was created. This is the Assumption Church as we see it today.
In November, 1984, the Church experienced “Clustering” , the bringing together of three church parishes under the pastorship of one priest. Bishop Stanley Ott, present Bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, designated us the first “cluster parish.” We are grouped with the Church of the Immaculate Conception, located on the Attakapas Canal, and the Church of St. Anne in Napoleonville. We share one pastor and one business office.
In June, 1986, Father Laird was transferred and, Father Gerald Burns, was named pastor.
The people of the Church of the Assumption remain full of good will, enthusiasm, and love for their church. They are willing, and have proven so up to this time, to demonstrate that no sacrifice is too great to save and preserve this ancient and venerable church at Plattenville.
In July, 1997, Father Caye A. Nelson, III, received his first pastorship, for the three communities. Bishop Alfred Hughes of the Baton Rouge Diocese designated his assignment. In July 2009 Fr Joel LaBauve was installed pastor of the three communities by Bishop Robert W. Muench. Three years later, in July 2012 Fr Paul Gros was installed pastor by Bishop Muench as well.
Though the physical appearance of the parish of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has changed with the passing of time, the faith and devotion of its people is still evident today, as it must have been in the past, to guide its people all these years.
St. Faustine has been a part of the Bayou Lafourche community since 1872.
A waxen figure which represents the saint and which contains a relic, reportedly brought from the catacombs in Rome, lives in a glass and wooden case, called a sarcophagus, near a side door in the Church. She is dressed in a burgundy velvet tunic, trimmed in gold braid, and a white skirt. A gold belt encircles her waist. Her shoes are thronged sandals. Her four-foot frame lies with her head back and beautiful long brown hair softly touching her skin.
Father Charles Menard, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Thibodaux, brought back the statue in 1872 from one of his trips to Rome. It was brought back at the request of Father Bouchet. According to legend, a bone from her body was also brought back.
On April 18, 1872, one of the outstanding and historical events in Assumption Parish began with the annual celebration of St. Faustine. During the feast, her statue and the relic were carried around in the church in silent procession before resting it in the glass sarcophagus. The Archbishop of New Orleans and many other priests were present.
Ever since that time, St. Faustine’s Feast Day has been popular and was celebrated for many years on April 18th. Men would put the case on their shoulders and carry it around, the church. Four little girls dressed like the replica of St. Faustine followed. All of the little girls of the parish dressed in white and sprinkled flower petals along the path of the procession. A Mass was celebrated in St. Faustine’s honor, and all-day fair was held which included dinner and games.
The feast day was discontinued because the Catholic Church could not find any historical evidence which would claim that St. Faustine had really lived and had been officially proclaimed a saint. This has not stopped the devotion of the people. Many parishioners have prayed successfully for her help. It seems unlikely that anyone will ever know more facts about St. Faustine, but we will still have “miracles” and good results fro.