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History

The Catholic Church in Louisiana dates to the mid-18th century. Church parishes were established in St. Martin Poste des Attakapas in 1756 and la Poste des Opelousas in 1776. The little community of Vermilionville, formerly called The Manchac Trading Post and later called the town of Lafayette, began to flourish in this newly colonized region.

The Attakapas area churches were served by Father Michel Bernard Barrière, a missionary priest from Bordeaux, France who came to the New World to escape persecution during the French Revolution. Father Barrière travelled throughout the Attakapas region, often on horseback or pirogue, to celebrate masses and perform sacraments of marriage and baptism for the rural resi-dents. At Vermilionville he often celebrated these at the home of Jean Mou-ton, a refugee of the Acadian Exile who had become a substantial landholder through Spanish land grants.

By the early 19th century as part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the pop-ulation of Vermilionville numbered 4000 souls, mostly French Catholics. The need for a Catholic Church to serve the faithful of Vermilionville became ap-parent. In March of 1821, Jean Mouton donated 5.4 arpents for a small chapel to serve the residents of Vermilionville. This church was named Saint Jeandu Vermilion and the new church parish was consecrated on December 20, 1821. Bishop duBourg appointed Fr. Barrière as the first pastor of St. Jean. The boundaries of the new parish extended west to the Mermentau river, east to the Atchafalaya river, north from boundary at the St. Charles parish in Grand Coteau, and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The present site has seen several church structures. After the initial establish-ment of the parish, a new church was built in the 1850s under the direction of Father Antoine Mégret, also known as Abbé Mégret, later the founder of St. Mary Magdalen church parish in Abbeville. This church structure was dam-aged considerably during the Civil War when Union soldiers under General Weitzel camped in and around it. Federal troops used the steeple platform as a signal tower.

The old church needed extensive repairs after the Civil War. Repairs occurred but the church was again damaged during a strong tropical storm in 1871. Father Ernest Forge, pastor of St. Jean from 1881-1906, spearheaded an exten-sive remodel effort including, electric lights, stained glass windows, and a new Italian marble altar. Fr. Forge also enlarged the church and added transepts to accommodate the African American community. In 1881 this same commu-nity donated a new Church bell weighing 3000 pounds installed in the large Flemish tower.

The present church structure was built in 1916 under the direction of Monsignor William Joseph Teurlings from Holland. It was elevated to the status of a Cathedral in 1918 when the Diocese of Lafayette was created. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana native Rev. Jules Benjamin Jeanmard was appointed as Lafayette’s first bishop.

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