Highlights in the Early History of St. Leo the Great Church In Leonville, La

Highlights in the Early History of St. Leo the Great Church in Leonville, Louisiana

"When Monsignor Guy Lemoine was pastor of St. Leo (1977-1983), he asked me to translate into English the entries in a small journal written in the French language by Father Mailluchet and other early priests (1896 - 1917).

"Fortunately I kept the following notes; the journal has since disappeared from the rectory.''-- Marie LaHaye

Photo dates from 1897


In January, 1896, the residents of Leonville, wishing to have a chapel of their own, called a meeting to which they invited Father Leon Mailluchet, pastor of Sacred Heart in Port Barre. Father Mailluchet was in agreement with their request, and, as proof of their good will, the people immediately subscribed $450.001 Anatole Guilhas, et al, donated six arpents of land, the present site of the church.

Father Mailluchet then drafted a petition, which everyone present signed, to send to the Most Reverend Francis Janssens, Archbishop of New Orleans.2 On February 11 the archbishop gave his permission to build the chapel.

However, problems unrelated to the project arose, and construction was delayed. Work resumed after Archbishop Janssens' visit to Port Barre to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

As soon as it was possible to provide shelter in the chapel, there were two bazaars. With theirs, the white people raised $450.00; the colored people, $333.00.

1Equivalent to approximately $8,355.60 in February, 1996, purchasing power, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2The Diocese of Lafayette had not yet been erected.


The work having proceeded speedily, it was possible to celebrate the blessing of the St. Leo Chapel on January 13, 1897, with a large congregation in attendance.

Fathers John Engerbrink and Drolet from Opelousas and Father D'Homm‚ from Washington assisted Father Mailluchet with the blessing.

By virtue of the special permission of Archbishop Janssens, the Stations of the Cross were blessed on February 8, 1897.

The cemetery was blessed on March 2, 1897.

The statue of St. Leo the Great, purchased by the congregation, and the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, donated by Mrs. Leocadie Rousse, were blessed and placed in the chapel on June 15, 1897.

Fr. Mailluchet was born in
Etouvans, France in 1847.
He died in Leonville on
July 16, 1914 and was
pastor at St Leo's from
Sept. 1897 to Jan., 1907.

-- Photo furnished by Marie LaHaye.


On September 5, 1898, Father Mailluchet changed his residence from Port Barre to Leonville, and St. Leo the Great became the head parish. Sacred Heart Church in Port Barre became a chapel.

With the funds from two bazaars, a sanctuary was constructed. The chapel was thus lengthened by twenty feet, and space was also provided for two chapels and a sacristy.


The diocesan debt of $22.75 was paid, and a wing was built on the south side of the church so that the colored people could have more space. When the work was completed, Father designated three rows of pews on the north side for the white people and two rows on the south side for the colored.


With the proceeds from two bazaars, we paid our share of the diocesan debt, and the cost of the paint for the front of the church, $50.00, as well as other expenses of the church and the cemetery, amounting to $27.00. The balance, $104.50, was reserved for the rectory building fund.


On Palm Sunday, March 31, 1901, a statue of St. Joseph was blessed.

Later in the year the fences and racks in front of the church were repaired at the cost of $15.00.

A monstrance for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was purchased.

With funds from bazaars, we paid our share of the diocesan debt, $22.75, and other expenses, $73.75. The balance, $126.75, reserved for the rectory fund, was added to last year's balance of $104.50.

After the 1901 crop was harvested, we began a special collection for the rectory.


In March, 1902, a majority of the Catholics of Leonville expressed a wish to purchase land and houses to convert to a rectory, With Archbishop P.L.Chapelle's authorization, the transaction was completed. The cost was $800.00, to be paid in installments. A copy of this transaction is in the archives in New Orleans.

That same year a humeral veil for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was purchased and paid for by the parishioners.


This year we purchased a sanctuary lamp. We also paid our share of the diocesan debt, $22.75, as well as other expenses, ordinary and special, for the upkeep of the church: sweeping and cleaning, $30.00; candles and oil, $25.00; the construction of a bridge in front of the rectory and one across the gully, $10.00 and $8.00, respectively.

At the end of the year we were free of debt, and the balance in the treasury was $62.05. Therefore we undertook the construction of the north wing of the church so that both sides would be similar. The carpentry and the material cost $259.00.

When this work was completed, Father Mailluchet had the altar of the Sacred Heart constructed and painted. This meant an increase of $14.00 in expenses. To complete the decoration of the church, the men purchased a statue of the Sacred Heart for the new altar; the ladies and girls, a larger statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The names of the donors are inscribed in the hearts which hang on the statues.


We repaired the rectory, built some porches, and did some work in the kitchen, etc., at a cost of $142.87. The remainder of the expenses for the upkeep of the church this year was in the amount of $35.90. I decided to have a special collection on the first Sunday of each month.


The year was a disastrous one for the country. Never had it rained so much. There were also long periods of drought. More than half the crop was lost.

We had to build a new bridge between the church and the rectory to replace the one which had been washed away by the flood. It was completed in time for Confirmation on July 9, at the cost of $50.00.

A new bell for the sanctuary was purchased for $10.00; repairs of the fences of the church and rectory cost $15.00, and other expenses were approximately $25.00.


Having obtained permission to make a trip to France for reasons of health, I left my parish in charge of Father Besson.

On my return to Leonville on July 1, 1906, I immediately began preparations to have the ceremony of First Communion on July 16.

On July 17, I went to New Orleans to hand in my resignation to Archbishop James H. Blenk. However, at the end of 1906 1 was still in Leonville. There are no debts.

Signed: Father Leon Mailluchet


I came to Leonville on February 28, 1907, having been driven here from the railway station in Opelousas. (Only three months later, the Southern Pacific Railroad extended its line to Port Barre.)

Father Mailluchet had left three days before my arrival.

In June there began a movement to build a new church, but the funds came in onlv that fall. Two bazaars brought in $1550.00.

La vente des bancs, ``sale'' of the pews (pew rental), held each year at Christmas, amounted to $696.00 in Leonville and $49.00 in Port Barre.

The first mission was preached by Father Fontaine, at that time a Redemptorist priest. This ten-day mission was a success, having brought back a number of ``fallen-away'' Catholics. It also inspired a nucleus of persons to receive Holy Communion every month, a practice almost unknown at this time. On August 26, Archbishop James H. Blenk made his first visit to Leonville.


In the fall of 1908 two bazaars brought in a sum of $1985.00. We consulted architects Diebold and Owen for plans for the new church. Conditions were 3 1/2 per cent of the total cost.

The plans were approved by the archbishop when $1000.00 was subscribed. At the same time permission was given to borrow $2000.00.


Work on the new church was begun on February 2, 1909. It was completed at a cost of $5,584.60.

It was blessed on May 13, the closing day of a mission preached by Father Louis Bouchet des Chartreux of Lyons, France.

The expenses for the new church are as follows: lumber, $3,300.00; contractor's bid, $1,100.00; additional lumber, $175.00; nails and roofing, $102.50; freight, $9.15; bricks, $150.00; freight on these, $38.20; lime and cement, $28.50; architect's fee, $250.00; accident and fire insurance (3 months), $45.00; hardware, $8.25; iron crosses, $20.00; molding and nails, $5.00; paint, $130.00; painter's expense, $80.00; steeple lightning rod, $43.00; June, fire insurance, $100.00.

A new altar was purchased at the cost of $120.46; also a belll, at $124.30. The old church was converted to a rectory. The expenses were as follows: moving it to another location, $100.00; re-roofing, $200.00; lumber, $707.30; paint, $61.40; work of contractor, $220.95; lightning rods for the church and house, $70.00; fence around church and house, $29.60; additional lumber, $100.95; sanitary closet and fixtures, $17.20; work, $5.00; cemetery fencing, $50.00; posts, $28.00; work on fence, $15.00; house heater and pipes, $25.00.


There was a crop failure.


The pulpit and the two side altars were donated by Father A. F. Roger, Church Point. He also made a donation toward the purchase of a confessional; the Ladies' Altar Society paid the balance. The Holy Name and St. Joseph Societies donated a large statue of the Blessed Virgin and one of St. Joseph, two angels, stands for these statues, and a triple gong.

Application for insurance on the house in the amount of $2,000.00 and the furniture, $500.00, was made, but no answer was received by March 14, 1916. The church was insured to January 19, 1918, as follows: outside, $3,500.00; inside, $1,500.00.

Signed: Father Eugene Livoreil

March 21, 1916

Act of Transfer of Parish to Father P.C. Cambière

1. The parish book indicates clearly that all property, movable and immovable, belongs to the parish and the church.

2. The record of all the titles of the property is also in the parish book in the Opelousas Court House. The insurance policy and copies of the titles are here in the house.

3. The church debts and all the accounts are clearly shown in the parish book and the cash book.

4. Parish boundaries are as follows: Between Grand Coteau and Leonville, the natural boundary is the Marks Coulée. Opelousas: the Fournier lane up to Bayou Teche; Bayou Teche to Coulon Bridge: the Prairie Basse lane up to the Opelousas-Port Barre road; Port Barre road up to Poplar Grove.

Between Port Barre and Leonville there is no boundary written or approved. Arnaudville and Leonville: the old boundary was the Pacaniere Lane and a straight line from the bayou to Marks Bridge.


After Port Barre became a parish, to avoid personal difficulties, Father John Engerbrink of Opelousas and Father J. B. Morin of Arnaudville traced new boundaries which were submitted to ecclesiastical authorities but not approved. The two priests had been delegated by the archbishop to set new boundaries, the original ones having been too close to the church in Leonville.

April 3,. 1917

Signed: Fr. Eugene Livoreil
Fr. P. C. Cambière

I arrived in Leonville on April 20, 1917, at 6:30 p.m. That same night at 10:30 Archbishop Blenk died.

Having been sent to replace Father Cambière, with his help I made an inventory of church and rectory property so that the transfer could be made in due form. I then took over the parish.

On April 22 I introduced myself to the parishioners. At a meeting with the men after High Mass, I suggested that a way be found to furnish the rectory so that everything would belong to the parish. It was decided that each family would be asked to make a donation to purchase essential articles.

To my regret, I found that the parish had been abandoned spiritually. The organizations were no longer active, and the church and rectory had been neglected. Several men and some ladies of the Altar Society assisted me in putting things back in order.

On April 29 we had the first meeting of the Altar Society.

The choir is now practicing three times a week, as are the altar servers, who are learning the Mass responses.

Catechism for the 100 children preparing for their First Communion is also three times a week.

April 30, 1917. Rev. James Gelabert, Rector


--English translation by Marie LaHaye

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