La Paroisse de St. Jean des Allemands Catholic Church

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The St. Charles Church cemetery is today recognized as the South’s oldest German cemetery.

In 1723, La Paroisse de St. Jean des Allemands Catholic Church was established at Karlstein. The earlier German Coast settlers worshiped in New Orleans in an old abandoned warehouse that served as the predecessor to St. Louis Cathedral (Church Records of 1720–30).

CENSUS OF 1724 RECORDS: “The Chapel with house and kitchen. Garden. Cemetery of about one and a half arpents. It was at the completion of this new cemetery that the cemetery between the two old villages was abandoned.” — J. Hanno Deiler, Settlement of the German Coast of Louisiana

1723 Chapel
The 1723 chapel found in the second old village, Le deuxieme ancient village, about one-half mile from the Mississippi River, which neighbored the first village. (Sketch by Janis Blair)
French Prayer Book
French Prayer Book. (Photo courtesy of Abbey Simoneaux)

The 1724 census reveals that a chapel had been constructed in a village on the German Coast, which, it appears, could have been there for several years prior to the census. This chapel has been described as “a miserable shed standing in a hole.” It was built on land later referred to as Trinity Plantation. Church records indicate that visiting priests from New Orleans held services on the German Coast until a resident priest was appointed. Funeral records in Paris archives indicate that Father Philibert de Viander, a Capuchin Catholic missionary, was already ministering to the settlers at the end of 1722 and in early 1723. It is believed that the chapel was built as soon as the Germans settled the concession, because in 1727, Father Raphael pleaded for the Company of the Indies to build a new church. The colonial budget of 1729 makes provisions for a resident priest, Father Philippe de Lurembourg. The first book of sacramental records of this chapel (1739–56) is housed in the archives of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

In French Louisiana, the Roman Catholic religion was the universal religion. In fact, Catholicism was the only religion permitted. In Louisiana, the Church was supported by government subsidies and forced contributions and assessments. Every family had a pew rented by the year and the family’s social position was usually indicated by pew location. The parish priest was closer to the families than the district commandant. There were more than twenty-five Holy Days a year, plus Sundays. Church bells rang for every occasion. Often the Blessed Sacrament was carried in the monstrance to the river levee to hold back floods. On the entire Côté des Allemands there were only ten Protestants. The Capuchins were relentless in their work for the Catholic Church. For example, in order to practice medicine, a person was first required to prove they were an upstanding Catholic. The Capuchins felt the Germans showed far more religious energy than the French, building their little chapel simultaneously with their settlement, rather than being content to worship in old stores or warehouses. It is believed that Father Raphael, an uncle of Jean-Noël Destrehan, opened the first parochial school in Louisiana in 1725, in New Orleans.

St. Charles Church

The 1740 Chapel - Image
The 1740 chapel, named “St. Charles,” was built in the area now known as Destrehan. (Sketch by Janis Blair)

Tradition says that in 1740, that first little chapel, St. Jean des Allemands Catholic Church at Karlstein (on what later would be referred to as Trinity Plantation in Taft), was replaced by a crude log cabin on the east bank and named St. Charles. That chapel continued to serve the spiritual needs of the French, Canadians, and Germans on both sides of the river on the German Coast until 1772 when St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was erected in present-day Edgard. According to historian Dr. Isabel M. French, “that it was built at the present site of the St. Charles Church at Destrehan is pinpointed by the wording in a 1770 grant of land to the Church.” Early church records from 1739 to 1756 reveal the names of French and German families’ baptisms, marriages, and deaths showing that those pioneers were blessed with very large families.

For as far back as these early residents could remember, they and their ancestors had been ruled by kings, princes and warlords… From the beginnings of their history, the residents…were subjects, not citizens. And subjects, as we know, do not make the laws under which they live; subjects follow them. Subjects do not choose their rulers; subjects obey them. Before 1807, the King’s word was law and those men that the King appointed, enforced his law. The people were told that the King ruled over them because it was the Will of God … The King and the Catholic Church appointed all local officials in Louisiana … But in March 1807, a radically different system of government was about to take shape and dramatically change the lives of everyone living here.
Extracted from “Letter from Norman Marmillion”, News Examiner, April 5, 2007

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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