The movement for the subdivision of the great plantations along the Mississippi River above New Orleans, begun after the American domination in 1803, gradually spread to the vast land-ownings upstream along the east bank. Faubourg Sainte Marie, Fabourg Saulet-Foucher, the City of Lafayette, Fabourg Bouligny and Greenville developed one after the other as the old plantation lands were subdivided into lots and new residents, attracted to the great metropolis near the mouth of the Mississippi River, bought these lots and built homes. However, many plantation owners or their descendants retained sections of land and continued to live in the various Faubourgs along the river.
The famous old Macarty Plantation on the east bank of the great curve of the river, below the beginning of the old Cote des Allemands, eventually succumbed to the subdivision movement, after it had been bought out by the New Orleans Canal and Banking Co., Samuel Kohn, Laurent Millaudon and John Slidell, as related by Edgar A. Perilloux in his booklet, "Carrollton Centennial." This was undertaken in 1833, the year after the Macarty Crevasse, by Charles F. Zimpel, a German surveyor and civil engineer, according to William H. Williams in his address on the history of Carrollton.
Transportation facilities gave the necessary impetus to the new subdivision that became known as Carrollton. In 1835, the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company completed its line from New Orleans to the new community of Carrollton, where a resort hotel was erected. Mule cars and dummy steam locomotives pulling trains of cars, transported residents and many visitors between New Orleans and the budding area, four and one-half miles above, along Nyades Street (now St. Charles Avenue), and First Street, as that thoroughfare was called within the limits of Carrollton. At the other end of the old Macarty Plantation, opposite from the river front, the Canal Bank had dug the new canal (the New Basin) connecting the back of Faubourg Sainte Marie with Lake Pontchartrain.
Neither the great crevasse of 1832, nor the tragic yellow fever and cholera epidemics of 1833 and 1834, and the great epidemic of 1847 could check the growth of the new community. New Orleans was then in the midst of a great boom, vast projects, financial enterprises and huge speculation, that gave rise to rosy dreams of a New Orleans with a million population and the greatest city in America. The development of Carrollton was linked with this tremendous surging of life and activities and
enterprises in the old colonial capital, which had burst its restricting confines of the Vieux Carre and spread in all directions.
All the section above Felicity Street, including the growing community of Carrollton, was then part of Jefferson Parish, and the City of Lafayette - the area around Jackson Avenue - was the parish seat. The village at the terminus of the railroad on the old Macarty Plantation was incorporated on March 10, 1845. French and German immigrants, as well as some Irish, settled around the new village, but there were also in the area many members of the families of Creole owners of plantations. Many of these people were Catholics.
Directing the affairs of the Church since 1835, was the energetic and most capable ecclesiastic that the Church in Louisiana had had up to that time - Most Rev. Antoine Blanc, then Bishop of the Diocese of New Orleans, covering the entire state of Louisiana. Bishop Blanc was confronted with a tremendous problem - that of providing adequately for the spiritual welfare of Catholics in scores of rapidly mushrooming communities, whose people clamored for a parish church and a resident priest.
However, Monseigneur Blanc faced the difficulty of a dire shortage of priests. He followed the policy established by the second Bishop of Louisiana, Monseigneur Dubourg, of recruiting clergy from volunteers in Europe, but especially France. The development of the city upstream with growing communities made up mostly of French, Irish and German Catholics, posed serious problems. St. Patrick's Church had been established for the Irish in Faubourg Sainte Marie, but by 1840, there was no other Catholic church until one reached St. Charles Borromeo Church, the Little Red Church, of Les Allemands, the old German Coast.
The latter was the closest to the new Carrollton community. Until the 1840s, St. Charles had as pastor devoted Father Augustin DeAngelis, one of the pioneer recruits of Bishop Dubourg. He came down from Destrehan to Carrollton and ministered to the Catholics of the new village, but he retired later, and Father E. Barthe replaced him at St. Charles Borromeo. Father DeAngelis, on his visits to Carrollton, had purchased six lots on Second Street, between Madison and Cambronne Streets - today these are Maple Street, between Dante and Cambronne Streets. The first Catholic services were conducted in the house on that property.
One infers that Father DeAngelis and Father Barthe from Destrehan officiated there, and probably Father DeAngelis when he retired. This Was evidently the method recommended or proposed by Monseigneur Blanc to provide spiritual ministrations for the growing Catholic community in Carrollton. Then the Bishop directed Rev. Flavius Rossi, former pastor of Opelousas, who had retired, to look after the Carrollton community. This he did in 1845 or thereabout, using the house of Father DeAngelis, on Maple Street.
The old registers of the Church of the Nativity in Carrollton contain a note by Rev. Charles Louis Lemagie, third pastor, that in November, 1846, Father Rossi was "my predecessor as Catholic pastor of Carrollton." This was in connection with an attestation by Zenon Hamelin that he had
been baptized by Father Rossi, and this was certified by Celestin Destrehan. Another similar certification of a Baptism by Father Rossi was made by Eusebe Hamlin. This gives us documentary proof of the first priest to be specifically assigned to Carrollton.
In 1847, Father DeAngelis donated the six lots and the house on it to the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul, popularly known as Sisters of Charity, for the establishment of an orphanage. But the house continued to be used as a church until September 8, 1848, and during the following year, it began to be used as an orphanage, serving as an annex to the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum, formerly the St. Patrick's Orphan Asylum.
Monseigneur Blanc turned his attention to the growing Faubourgs along the river above New Orleans. He sent the Redemptorist, Father Czackert, to look after Catholics in the City of Lafayette in 1845. In that year, he also built a chapel next to St. Patrick's Asylum, which was called St. Theresa's. Then he made arrangements with the Lazarist Fathers to establish a church on Napoleon Avenue in Faubourg Bouligny.
Finally, he decided late in 1847, to establish a parish in Carrollton. That year, he sent Rev. Ferdinand Zeller, a priest from Lorraine, to organize a parish at Breaux Bridge, On account of difficulties, Bishop Blanc withdrew Father Zeller from Breaux Bridge in February, 1848, and the latter spent a short time with the Jesuit Fathers at St. Charles College, Grand Coteau. In March, Monseigneur Blanc called Father Zeller to New Orleans and authorized him to organize a parish in Carrollton. Father Zeller proceeded promptly to the new community and established himself at the house of Father DeAngelis, where he began to conduct services for the French, Germans and Irish Catholics, who had been appealing for a church and resident pastor. Thus began the Church in Carrollton.
Father Zeller, native of Lorraine, spoke both French and German fluently, and stated himself, that he was quite familiar with English. From his correspondence extant in connection with his work at Breaux Bridge, one gathers that he was an energetic, pious and resourceful priest, who could handle a saw and a hammer as well as expound the doctrines of the Church and catechize classes of adults as well as those of children, besides revealing much ability as an organizer. For a parish that had to begin from "scratch," Father Zeller was an excellent selection. All he had was an assignment, the use of a house belonging to the Sisters of Charity, a congregation of several nationalities - and that was all, except for his own zeal, energy and determination.
One infers from old accounts that the prime movers for the new parish were German settlers in Carrollton. However, there were people of other national origins, as is evident from names taken at random from the parish registers for the first few years beginning with 1848: Braun, Otto, Hageman, Kreis, Lessassier, LeBlanc, Sullivan, Bienvenu, Soniat, Labranche, Hoffmann, Bouligny, Bermudez, Soniat-Dufossat, Schmidt, Hinterlang, Dillmann, Trauth, Rohrick, Zeller, Mason, Bourdet, Schmitt, Wendel, Faust, Kern, LeBreton, Labarre, Greiner, Mooney, Turner, Frey, Wattigny, Fortier, Durocher, Reiss, Kampen, Kunkel, Hahn, Junger, Zeringue, Brand, Stouder, Weiss, Roettel, Faucheaux, Villere, Fisher, Arnoult, Boisblanc, Verloin, Lang, Stengel, Stoulig, Gebhard, Boesch, Ryan, Byrne and Zimmermann.
Authorized by Bishop Blanc, Father Zeller opened subscription lists, soliciting cash donations and pledges, for the erection of a church in Carrollton. This was the custom of the time. Solicitors ranged far and wide and sought contributions anywhere, contacting all persons likely to help the cause. Father Zeller began his work in Carrollton during the administration of Mayor Henry Mithoff.
Frederick William Schmidt bought three lots on Cambronne Street, upper side, between Second (now Maple) and Burthe Streets, on May 2, 1848, and deeded the property over to Bishop Blanc. This prelate had just won in the State Supreme Court a case filed against him by arrogant trustees of the St. Louis Cathedral, who controlled that church and its property and operations. He had adopted the policy that no parish church henceforth would be established unless the property was vested in the name of the Bishop as head of the Church in the diocese. This explains why the new property was placed in Bishop's name.
Father Zeller's first official act in the new parish was the Baptism on March 21, 1848, of John Braun, son of Joseph Braun and Elizabeth Tires. The ceremony took place in the temporary church in Father DeAngelis' house, but it was already in the name of the Sisters of Charity, who had generously allowed its use without charge. The first marriage in the parish was that of James Biett and Maria Elizabeth Otto, the witnesses being Peter Stoulig and Hermann H. Kampen.
With funds available from the subscription lists and help from Bishop Blanc, Father Zeller went forward in the summer of 1848, with the construction of a small frame church, having a short belfry and a seating capacity of about 200. Cholera broke out and swept the area and continued into 1849, leading the Bishop to appeal for prayers that God might check the terrible scourge. But the work went on with determination, and by the beginning of September, the little church was ready for occupancy. Dedication ceremonies took place on September 8, 1848, with a large gathering of Catholics from Carrollton in attendance, and a few priests from neighboring parishes.
The day was the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mother, and the new structure was placed under the title of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, it became popularly known as St. Mary of the Nativity or simply St. Mary's, but often referred to as Nativity Church, or the French Church. When the parish was formally incorporated in 1894 as an independent parish corporation under state laws, it was designated as "The Congregation of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church of the Parish of Orleans, Carrollton."
The first Baptism in the new church was that of Margaret Dillmann on September 17, 1848. She was the daughter of Anton Dillmann and Philippine Wild. During the first year of the new Nativity parish, 28 children were baptized, and in 1849, Baptisms totaled 35. All of them were performed by Father Zeller.
The first priest to officiate at the new Nativity Church, other than the pastor, Father Zeller, was Rev. P. A. Steinbacher, C.Ss.R., in November, 1850, who conducted marriage ceremonies. The following month (December) Rev. L. Kupper, who signs as "Missionary Priest," performed two Baptisms. Father Steinbacher officiated again in January, 1851, for two marriages. Father Steinbacher was a Redemptorist priest who served St. Mary's Assumption Church in the City of Lafayette. He died of typhoid fever in March, 1851, while serving as chaplain at Charity Hospital. The inference is that he came to Carrollton at Father Zeller's invitation to give a mission, or to assist him at Christmas time.
On Sunday, May 1, 1851, Monseigneur Blanc came to Carrollton to administer Confirmation for the first time in the new Church of the Nativity. The class prepared by Father Zeller included 40 persons, including children and adults.
During the afternoon, His Excellency, who had become the Archbishop of New Orleans, crossed the Mississippi River and proceeded to the Waggaman Plantation with Father Zeller, where he administered Confirmation to 34 persons, in the Waggaman Chapel. This chapel had been assigned to the care of the pastor of Carrollton. The parish territory at the time extended from the lower-line of the town of Carrollton, giving its name of Lowerline Street, to the New Basin, out to the lake and along a line from the river to the lake above Kenner, but it included also a strip along the west bank in which was Waggaman Plantation.
Mrs. Waggaman started a chapel at the suggestion of Monseigneur Chanche, Bishop of Natchez, and previously vice-president of St. Mary's College, Baltimore, where two of the Waggaman boys were being educated. He urged the chapel for the spiritual welfare of her family and her slaves. In 1841, while on his way to Natchez, Monseigneur Chanche blessed the chapel. Priests from New Orleans came to officiate there as people from the vicinity worshipped in the chapel.
Before long, it proved too small for the congregation, when Father Zeller was designated by the Archbishop to take care of it. He appealed to Mrs. Waggaman for a larger drip of ground, and to the people for contributions to permit the building of a larger church. Mrs. Waggaman generously donated a parcel of ground 777 feet deep, from the river to the woods, and 144 feet wide along the river. This was given for the purpose of establishing thereon a church, a rectory and a cemetery. Father Zeller opened a subscription list, and the prompt and generous response made it possible to erect the church. It was blessed by Monseigneur Blanc on February 5, 1854, and dedicated under the invocation of Our Lady of the Angels. Eventually it became known as Church of the Guardian Angels. On Easter Sunday of the same year (1854), a 450-pound bell was blessed and installed at the new church. Four years later, Father Zeller undertook collections for the erection of a rectory, and he himself donated $500. However, a crevasse occurred and the project was temporarily abandoned. It was not until after Father Zeller left that the project was carried out in 1860, and Our Lady of the Angels became a parish. The west bank area was cut off then from Nativity parish of Carrollton, but later it was returned to that parish, as we shall note. As early as 1858, the Waggaman church is listed as a parish church with Rev. J. Lesnes as pastor.
Archbishop Blanc returned to Carrollton on July 3, 1852, and again administered Confirmation, the class this time including 29 whites and 19 colored. The spiritual efforts of Father are evident from the increase in Baptisms, which in 1853 totaled 64 and in marriages, 18. In 1849, there had been only 12 marriages. The Confirmation class of 1855 had 54 persons.
Although Father Zeller made steady progress in his labors in Carrollton and its environs, he faced many difficulties, not the least of which were those stemming from diversity of nationalities. Since the majority of the parishioners were German, sermons were delivered in that language, but this was resented by the large number of French and Creole as well as Irish parishioners. Displeasure was fanned into anger and indignation, and soon stories were circulated that the church would be burned. The German parishioners organized a guard and the place was watched night and day, for several weeks. Some of the non-German people refused to attend church services if the sermons and instructions were continued in German. The size of the German population may be gleaned from the fact that the proceedings of the town Council of Carrollton were published in German, besides English.
Father Zeller solved the difficulty by arranging to give the sermons alternately in French, German and English. Calm was restored and parishioners returned to attend services. When Archbishop Blanc came for Confirmation on June 17, 1855, there was a class of 54 persons.
In 1856, Father Zeller decided to make a visit to his native land, and he left Carrollton in May, 1856. During his absence, Rev. Joseph Anstaett directed the affairs of Nativity parish.
When Father Zeller returned in November, 1856, he turned his attention to the enlargement of the church, which had become too small to accommodate the growing congregation. Many new residents were taking up homes in Carrollton, and among them were many Catholics. The work was completed early in 1857, and the worshippers were now able to attend services with more convenience. Pews were rented out, and among early pew-holders of Nativity church of the time was Dr. Butler with his family. Establishment of the Catholic Church in Carrollton was a welcome addition to the new community, and its enlargement was evidence of the growth of the parish seat, for Carrollton during the election of 1853, was chosen as the parish center for Jefferson, and in 1855 the officials occupied the new courthouse. Three years later it was incorporated as a city.
The enlargement of Nativity Church and efforts to build a rectory for the Waggaman church were the last projects undertaken by Father Zeller. He decided to give up mission work in Louisiana and to return to his native land. Archbishop Blanc accepted his resignation, and sent Rev. Anthony Carius in July, 1857, to take his place in Carrollton. However, Father Zeller stayed on until the end of August in that year, when he bade his parishioners farewell land set off for Lorraine.
Father Carius then took up pastoral duties. He continued the practice of his predecessor of preaching alternately in French, English and German. He was a native of Wissernbourg in Alsace, hence familiar with both French and German, and to these he added English. Rev. F. Berthaud visited the parish in October for a few days, but Father Carius carried on his ministry without any assistant.
Father Carius gave his attention not only to the white parishioners, but also to the Negroes in his vast parish, especially the slaves on the, adjacent plantations. He instructed and baptized them, and one of his entries reveals the Baptism in a group of eight children of slaves.
During 1859, Father Carius was absent for two months, and during that time, Nativity Church was served' by Rev. Francis Pont, a young priest from the Natchez Diocese, who had been ordained shortly before by Archbishop Blanc. Father Pont was then pastor of St. Peter's Church at Jackson, Miss., so he signed Nativity records, "Pastor Pro Tem."
In 1857, the year that Father Carius took charge, Baptisms totaled 45, but by 1860, these had increased to 67 for the year. In June, 1861, Rev. C. H. Booker visited the parish for a few days, but he was not an assigned assistant.
The year 1861 was one of turmoil. The Southern States had seceded from the Union and war between the North and the South broke out. As in other parishes of Louisiana, the pastor saw the young men leaving to enlist under the Confederate colors. Business declined, money became scarce and apprehension filled all minds. Archbishop Blanc had died in June, 1860, and early in 1861, Most Rev. Jean Marie Odin, C.M., Bishop of Galveston, became the second Archbishop of New Orleans. In July, 1861, Father Carius, in the midst of the excitement and upheaval of the times, left Carrollton, and offered himself at New Orleans to the Confederate officials for service as a chaplain. He was assigned to the First Louisiana Regiment of Infantry, together with the immortal Rev. Darius Hubert, S.J., serving in many famous campaigns.