History of Mater Dolorosa

WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION

Meanwhile another Catholic institution had been developing in Carrollton. In 1847, Sister Regis, president of the board of the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum, gratefully accepted from Rev. Augustin DeAngelis the gift of six lots and a small frame house on Maple. Street in Carrollton. The widespread yellow fever epidemic of 1847, and its recurrence in 1848 brought an unusually large number of orphans to the care of the Sisters of Charity. By 1849, the New Orleans asylum having become too crowded, the Sisters decided to make use of the Carrollton property, and 40 of the smaller orphans were sent there. This was the beginning of the Carrollton Female Orphan Asylum, operated by the Sisters of Charity.

 

However, during the next year (1850), it was found that operation of the annex entailed considerable expense, so the property was rented out. Yellow fever swept South Louisiana in 1853 in the worst plague in its history, and homeless children were flocking to the New Orleans asylum, or sent there by priests and charitable or relief organizations. The Sisters took back the property in Carrollton, and erected temporary buildings to care for the scores of homeless children. The Howard Association, formed to help epidemic victims, sent 40 children to the institution and the Portuguese, also city authorities, likewise sent large numbers. The State Legislature in 1854, appropriated $5000 for the Carrollton asylum to care for 50 children whose parents had been the victims of the yellow fever, and many generous donations were received from individuals for these young victims of tragedy.

 

For many years, the house of the Sisters of Charity in Carrollton was directed by devoted and capable Sister Honoria McGready, who continued her charitable labors until her death in 1875. Later Sister Ernestine was Sister Servant at the asylum.

 

By 1857, the house in Carrollton was in need of extensive repairs, and the president of the New Orleans asylum board was authorized to have this work done. At that time, it was decided to use the Carrollton asylum only for the sickly or convalescing children. But gradually other girls were sent there to relieve the crowding in the New Orleans house. In 1861, Sister Honoria and four Sisters were caring for 85 orphans at the home on Maple Street. The Catholic Directory listing for that year describes the institution as "a country house connected with the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum, where delicate orphans and other convalescents are sent to recover."

 

Again in 1869, when finances were perilously low, because of the wide-spread poverty of Reconstruction days, the Sisters again decided, in view of the heavy expenses accruing from operation of the Carrollton asylum, to bring in the children from Carrollton and to send there only a few children who needed special care or who were recovering from illness.

 

The spiritual needs of the Sisters of Charity at the Carrollton asylum, likewise the children, were looked after by Father Zeller, and by his successor, Father Carius, and this task continued to devolve upon succeeding pastors. The asylum children made their First Communion and were Confirmed at the Nativity Church.

 

After Archbishop Odin had released Father Carius for chaplain's service with the Confederate forces, he called Rev. Charles Louis Lemagie, a French priest, who was serving as assistant to Canon Cornelius Moynihan, from Sts. Peter and Paul's Church and appointed him pastor of the Church of the Nativity. He began his pastorate at the end of July, 1861, and continued his labors in the parish during the difficult and apprehensive days of the war until 1866.

 

An interesting item of Father Lemagie's pastorate is the schedule of rates for funerals, referred to as "Tariff of the Church of St. Mary of the Nativity." This list furnishes the following rates: "Funerals, third class, $8; second class, $16; first class, $28; child's funeral, second class, $8; first class, $16." The organist received $2.50. There was then no fixed tariff for Baptisms and marriages.

 

The registers for 1865 show 78 Baptisms, 16 marriages, and in 1866, a total of 114 Baptisms and 24 marriages.

 

Father Lemagie carried out the directions of Archbishop Odin for the recitation of prayers for peace, and conducted Forty Hours' Devotion, also for the same intention. Prayers were also said in 1863, for the success of the Confederate forces, as requested by President Jefferson Davis. After the capture of New Orleans by the Federals in 1862, Carrollton came under supervision of the military authorities, and there was little interference. From the Carrollton levee, Father Lemagie and his people of Carrollton could see the great pall of smoke that hung over New Orleans from the burning factories and cotton warehouses, then the Federal gunboats moving up the river, and later, the boats and barges coming down stream flying yellow flags, indicating cargoes of wounded. Life was apprehensive, filled with anxiety, but quiet and sad. Activities were restricted, and improvements shrank to the vanishing point. Poverty gradually spread and continued for many years.

 

Finally, in April 1866, as the men in grey trudged wearily home at the end of the war, the people of St. Mary's Nativity Church offered their farewells to Father Lemagie who was leaving them, after a pastorate of five years.

 

Archbishop Odin then sent Rev. Francis Xavier Ceuppens, a young Belgian priest, to assume the pastorate in Carrollton. He was still in his twenties, but a man of great energy, devotion and determination, and one who insisted on respect for the Church and her laws and authority. However, Father Ceuppens lacked one qualification which made him highly unpopular in Carrollton - he could not speak German. The results we shall soon note.

 

The vast extent of territory covered by the young pastor may be realized from a letter he wrote in 1873: "The limits of the parish of St. Mary in Carrollton are: On the right side of the river from Mr. P. J. Kennedy (Labranche Plantation) to the canal; the left side, from the upper limit of Jefferson City (property of Mr. May) to Kennerville."

 

When Father Ceuppens made a survey of the parish, he found much apathy and indifference towards religion, including a declining attendance at religious services. To remedy this, he invited the Redemptorist Fathers to conduct a mission at Nativity Church, just two months after his installation as pastor. One of the missionaries was Rev. Joseph Mary Jacobs, C.Ss.R. Just what conditions were and the effects of the mission can best be gathered from the annals of the Redemptorists, given by Father Krieger in his book on the New Orleans Redemptorists: "Seventy-five Years of Service." He writes: "In the year 1866, the Redemptorists preached a mission in Carrollton, at that time a suburb of New Orleans .... The spiritual condition of the people of the vicinity was most deplorable - hardly anyone attending Mass on Sundays. Very soon, however, there was great interest taken in the mission, and once again the spirit of fervor returned to the parish.

 

"We read that 600 received Holy Communion, 80 of whom were first communicants. There were also 23 converts - a glorious showing for what was then a sparsely populated section."

 

This explains the sudden jump in the number of Baptisms and marriages: The former in 1865, totaled 78, in 1866, totaled 114; marriages, 16 in 1865, and 24 in 1866.

 

Father Ceuppens followed up the benefits of the successful mission of 1866, by having the Redemptorist Fathers conduct another in 1867. The annals say: "The Fathers returned to Carrollton in 1867, at which their former success was repeated, as shown by the great number of communicants at the close of the mission and by the number of converts."

 

The registers for 1867 reveal 116 Baptisms that year. Some of those baptized were more than 40 years old.

 

The heavy increase in the work of the parish and the need for coverage of great distances, including the Waggaman church, induced Father Ceuppens to appeal to Archbishop Odin for an assistant. The year 1868 is a memorable one in the annals of St. Mary's Nativity for the parish was given its first assigned assistant pastors.

 

In May, 1868, Rev. Hyacinth Mignot, a young French priest, recently ordained, arrived at St. Mary's to share with Father Ceuppens the labors of the parish - and the tiny rectory adjoining. However, like the pastor, the assistant did not know one word of German, and the Germans in the congregation became indignant over the assignment of both a pastor and an assistant who could not preach in German. Despite his many fine qualities and his tireless zeal, Father Mignot was recalled by the Archbishop after one month, and sent to Sts. Peter and Paul Church on Craps Street in New Orleans, as assistant. He later became the famous, beloved rector of the St. Louis Cathedral and founder of Chinchuba Deaf Mute Institute. St. Mary's remained without an assistant for six months.

 

To satisfy the Germans in the congregation, Archbishop Odin sent a young German priest, who had arrived at New Orleans on November 5, 1868, and had been assigned as assistant at Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans. This was Rev. Anthony Bichlmayer, a priest destined to become an important factor in Carrollton for the next 30 years. He arrived at St. Mary's Nativity in the latter part of November, 1868, and looked after the Germans of the congregation. Once more peace reigned in the parish.

 

In 1868, Father Ceuppens began to conduct services in the growing community of Kennerville, which belonged to Nativity parish of Carrollton. He continued to serve the people there until 1871, and in 1872, the town became a parish in charge of the famous missionary, Father Scollard.

 

Father Ceuppens found difficulty in getting adequate contributions from the parishioners for the support of the church, although they wanted impressive ceremonies, especially marriages and funerals. In 1869, he took the matter up with Archbishop Odin, quoting the tariff prevailing in the parish. This was due to the Archbishop's insistence on the payment of the "cathe.draticum," the parish's contribution to the archdiocese, which had been almost entirely neglected or ignored in the past.

 

To remedy this condition, despite the difficulties and poverty of Reconstruction days, Father Ceuppens added extra charges where people wanted "extras," for example, $5 for a visit to the house for a funeral, and $5 to go to the cemetery. To remunerate the organist more fairly, he raised the charge for the organist at a high Mass from $2.50 to $7.50, and he adds in his letter to the Archbishop: "If they want it more solemn, ten dollars, and ad libidum."

 

In 1869, Father Ceuppens acquired a square of property opposite the cemetery, and bounded by Eighth, Adams, Burdette and Cohn Streets. Whether he had in mind transfer of the church on Cambronne Street from the nearby levee to this new site is not disclosed. Among some of the active parishioners appearing at this time a few might be mentioned: Friederich, Zeller, Mattle, Bienvenu, Livaudais, Perret, Hymel, Schor, Mayer, Trepagnier, Wolf, Wendell, Kunkel, Wunschel, Kamper and Gebhardt.

 

Noting the decline in the fervor of the people, Father Ceuppens held another mission in the parish in 1870, and the results are reflected in the Baptisms. In 1869, there had been 92, but in 1870, they totaled 130, the highest in the records of the parish until that time.

 

Father Ceuppens had not had a vacation since coming to this 

country nor had he had an opportunity to visit his native Belgium. The Archbishop granted him permission in 1870, and in April of that year he left for Europe leaving Father Bichlmayer in charge. On May 25, 1870, Archbishop Odin died in France, and Monseigneur Perche, consecrated Coadjutor Bishop just 25 days before, automatically became the third Archbishop of New Orleans. Shortly before, as Vicar General and administrator, he had sent Rev. John B. Bogaerts, recently ordained, to assist Father Bichlmayer at St. Mary's Nativity Church in Carrollton.

 

About this time war broke out between France and Prussia, and its repercussions were felt in Carrollton, as well as in New Orleans. Feelings ran high - jubilation among the Germans over the Prussian victories, and dismay and bitterness among the French. While Father Ceuppens was away, to please the German people, Father Bichlmayer and Father Bogaerts preached all sermons in German. German victories inflamed the patriotism of the German people of Carrollton and they decided they should have a church of their own, in the face of the protests and indignation of the French and Irish people.

 

In the midst of this turmoil and dissension, Father Ceuppens came back from Belgium in December, 1870, dismayed over the conditions that he found. Father Bogaerts had been recalled and transferred in September, and only Father Bichlmayer was on duty. To add to the difficult situation, Archbishop Perche had gone to Rome, and Very Rev. Gilbert Raymond, Vicar General, was serving as administrator.

 

After the Christmas holidays, Father Ceuppens decided to act, but it was not until the end of January that he appealed to Father Raymond for the removal of Father Bichlrnayer, as he felt the whole situation was intolerable, because of bitter nationalistic feelings prevailing in the parish. Hano Deiler in his book on the German churches writes: "The petition was granted on the spot, because on account of the (Franco-Prussian) war, strong anti-German feeling predominated in higher clerical circles (which were largely French). Father Bichlmayer by a special messenger from the archdiocesan chancery at midnight, was given the order to leave immediately upon receiving it from Carrollton, as he had nothing more to do there. Obedient to the order of his superior, Father Bichlmayer left Carrollton at 4 a.m., and made his way to Holy Trinity Church to which he had been ordered. He was forbidden to visit Carrollton for any reason."

 

Father Bichlmayer's last entry in the registers of St. Mary's Nativity Church appears on February 8, 1871. The removal of the assistant caused consternation among the German parishioners, but their previous plans of establishing a German-language church were now brought to a climax. During January, 1871, Rev. Heinrich V. Schaefer had assisted in the parish, but he left at the end of the month, and Father Ceuppens remained without an assistant. Resentment smoldered and there was much antagonism against Father Ceuppens. The effect of the whole situation on the parish may be gleaned from the parish registers, which for the year 1871 disclose only 24 Baptisms, and only 12 marriages.

 

Archbishop Perche felt bound to take action under such circumstances, and since the German Catholics were determined to have their own parish church, he felt that the only proper procedure was to transfer Father Ceuppens. He later served as pastor at Ascension Church in Donaldsonville, and he died at New Orleans in 1897, as pastor of St. Theresa's Church.

 

There is one important contribution made by Father Ceuppens that must be presented, and that was the establishment of the first parochial school in Carrollton. In 1868, he appealed to the Sisters of Charity who directed the Carrollton Female Orphan Asylum to open a school for the children of St. Mary's Nativity Parish. It is probable that the Sisters had already been taking care of day scholars from that section, or at least teaching them catechism for Father Ceuppens and his predecessors. But in 1868, at Father Ceuppens' request they began what was known as the Carrollton Parochial School. However, the Sisters taught only girls, and the boys were under the care of Brothers of the Christian Schools, popularly called the Christian Brothers. The following year (1869), the Christian Brothers evidently withdrew as the boys were placed in the care of men teachers. The Catholic Directory lists the school in 1869 as having a total of 300 pupils. The arrangement of having laymen teach the boys continued down the years, even when other Sisters took charge of the parochial school of St. Mary of the Nativity.

 

The parish report of 1871 sent to the chancery for 1871 gives us an idea of the finances of the Carrollton. The pew rent, obtained by the auctioning or leasing of the benches to families and individuals, as was the common custom, netted $1017.75, and the total revenues for the year were $1353.90. The Christmas collection amounted to $57.35. The Sunday collection for the last six months of the year totaled $44.65. The organist was paid $25 per month.

 

When Father Ceuppens left Nativity parish early in January, 1872 the parish was suffering from dissension, and the German people were pushing their plans for the erection of their parish, determined not to remain as members of the Nativity parish.