In 1807, St. Charles Civil Parish, Louisiana was named for the Ecclesiastical Parish of St. Charles, which served its parishioners in colonial times and in succeeding centuries at its present location in Destrehan. Charles Borromeo was born of noble birth on October 2, 1538, in a castle on Lake Maggiore in Italy. His father was Count Gilbert Borromeo and his mother was a Medici of Milano. While studying civil and canon law at the University of Paris, Charles acquired the reputation of being a paragon of virtue and humility. He earned his doctorate at age 22. When his uncle, Cardinal de Medici, was named Pope Pius IV in 1559, he named Charles as cardinal-deacon and administrator of Milano or the secretary of state of the Vatican.
In 1563, at the age of 25, Charles was ordained a priest. Charles flourished in his new profession. He supervised the drafting of the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the reform of liturgical books and music. In 1566, he returned to Milano to reform the diocese and retained his reputation as a paragon of virtue and humility. He established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine mandating that children be properly instructed in Christian doctrine. Thousands of children participated in this program during his lifetime and this mandate continues today. Charles died on November 3, 1584, at the age of 46 He was beatified in 1602 and canonized in 1610 (his feast day is celebrated on Nov. 4).
The Church of St. Charles was founded on the east bank of the German Coast 130 years later. The name Borromeo surfaced later in church records. There is a statue of St. Charles enshrined in front of the church in Destrehan. The altar stone at St. Charles Borromeo rests on a massive walnut tree trunk imported from Arona, Italy. This tree was estimated to be four hundred years old, dating back to the time that Charles Borromeo walked the streets of Arona. As a tribute to his prominence in the parish’s history, a statue of his likeness stands at the parish courthouse in Hahnville.
This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.