Little Red Church

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The Little Red Church PaintingHistorical Notes on St. Charles Borromeo: Little Red Church, 1918

The Little Red Church, built in 1806, has been standing now on the 1770 Spanish land grant for 112 years as a landmark for travelers on the Mississippi River. The church was without a pastor for forty-two years due to the 1877 fire, which destroyed the rectory, and the 1890 interdiction brought about by charter and warden conflicts with the archdiocese. But all of that would soon change with the appointment of a new pastor and lifting of the interdiction. Mr. Pat Kelly of the Mexican Petroleum Company and other church parishioners negotiated with the archdiocese to reopen the Red Church. In 1917, a parochial charter was adopted and St. Charles Borromeo Church Parish was reinstated to the diocese. The new pastor would accept the assignment without a place to live, but Mexican Petroleum offered a temporary residence at its refinery. Red Church was dilapidated from years of neglect, so it needed repairs and to be enlarged.

There have been many priests in residence since the establishment of St. Charles Borromeo in Destrehan. One of the best known is Father John Francis Basty, who arrived on March 10, 1918, and remained until July 1949. He was a visionary who helped restore the spiritual and physical life of the church parish. Father Basty immediately saw the need to improve conditions in his new pastorate and to finance the construction of the new church. He immediately built a new rectory, made repairs, and enlarged the Little Red Church. Under his leadership, the following accomplishments occurred:

1920 — Of the 617.68 acres of church property, 600 acres were sold and 17 acres were reserved for church, school, and cemetery use.

1921 — A new church was built from the sale of church lands.

1924 — St. Isidore the Farmer’s Chapel at Montz was erected.

1929 — The rectory of the Red Church was remodeled by elevating the existing building and closing in the ground level. The two-story building and other original buildings remain in place today.

1929 — A two-story combination elementary school and convent was built, opening the first parochial school between New Orleans and Baton Rouge on the east bank.

1929 — The Sisters of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception were solicited to operate the elementary school. Sister Margaret Mary, C.I.C., was the first principal.

1939 — A combination auditorium-classroom unit was erected.

1942 — Two lots in Norco were acquired and the old St. Matthias Church of New Orleans was rebuilt as the Sacred Heart Mission Chapel.

1947 — The Christian Brothers religious order was sought to operate a projected high school.

1948 — A private, parochial high school, St. Charles Borromeo High School, opened under the direction of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

1949 — Contracts were put in place for the building of a new convent.

Little Red Church
The new St. Charles Borromeo Church was dedicated on January 25, 1922. In the 1978 restoration and expansion of the church, the old Stations of the Cross were restored and the solid cypress pews were used as paneling and the balcony railing. St. Charles Borromeo Church continues to serve Catholic parishioners in the twenty-first century and is the second oldest church parish in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Support of clergy and laity over the years has contributed to the preservation of the integrity of this historic landmark.
Little Red Church
Little Red Church. Tradition holds that the 1740 St. Charles log chapel was destroyed by fire in 1806 and rebuilt the same year. It was replaced by a wood-framed structure and painted red. The “Little Red Church” became a famous landmark for river travelers. Passengers going downriver were relieved to see the Red Church because it meant New Orleans was only 25 miles away. (Photo courtesy of Fay Walker Louque)

Father Basty’s legendary flock of sheep roamed the grounds of the church and schoolyard. Wool from the sheep was bundled and sold to the parishioners for quilt making. Despite speculation or the belief that Father Basty was the first pastor of St. Charles Borromeo to have sheep, 1747 records reveal a partnership: “Jean Rommel and the Reverend Father Pierre form an act of partnership whereby Rommel agrees to look after 25 sheep and five rams belonging to the Reverend Father for one-half the profits.”

Following the departure of the Immaculate Conception order in May of 1960, the Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament came to the school to continue the education program. In 1979, St. Charles Borromeo High School closed. The archdiocese opened a new Catholic high school in LaPlace. In the twenty-first century, St. Charles Borromeo Elementary is the largest private parochial school in the parish.

St. Charles Borromeo Elementary
One of St. Charles Borromeo Elementary School’s graduating classes. (Photo courtesy of Ralph A. Richoux, Sr.)
School and Convent
St. Charles Borromeo School and convent combined-1929.
Sister M. Valerie
Sister M. Valerie, C.I.C. was St. Charles Borromeo High School\’s first principal and guided it with a strong sense of purpose, exceptional educational credentials, and a firm religious faith. Her presence contributed to the success of the high school. (Photo from the 250th Anniversary Celebration of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Destrehan, Louisiana, 1723-1973 booklet. Copyright 1973.)
St. Charles Borromeo Auditorium
St. Charles Borromeo High School auditorium. (Photos from the 250th Anniversary Celebration of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Destrehan, Louisiana, 1723– 1973 booklet. Copyright 1973.)
St. Charles Borromeo High School
St. Charles Borromeo High School.

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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