|Editor's note: Abraham Maslow, one of the 20th
century's great social scientists, put forth the view
that individuals - and societies - develop by meeting
a series of progressively more complicated needs.
We have seen the Acadians struggle to meet their basic
needs for food, shelter and a safe homeland.
Now, in Part Seven of The Advertiser's series, we
see them growing as a unique culture, to pursue
higher social, spiritual and economic goals.
Science fiction novelist Robert
Heinlein wrote that when a community is large enough to require
identification cards, it's too big and someone should
He wasn't around to tell that
to the Acadians in the last half of the 19th century, but they seemed to
idea anyway. Not content to manage the hamlets they had
already established, the ever-busysettlers were
on the grow, taming new areas of south Louisiana.
The Acadians' strong Catholic
faith was the fire that fueled many of these efforts, most notably in Grand
Coteau. Louisiana: A Guide to the State
credits Mrs. Charles Smith with donating 100 acres of land, plus
travelling expenses for Sacred Heart nuns from St. Louis,
to found a Catholic school for the area's genteel
young ladies. As a result the Academy of the Sacred Heart
was founded in 1821, followed in 1838 by St.
Charles College for Boys (now a Jesuit facility).
By the start of the Civil War,
a small but devout community of support personnel had grown up around the
schools. Fortunately for them Sacred Heart's mother superior
enjoyed a certain degree of influence over
Union commanders whose troops had surrounded the convent
and campus (remains of battlefield trenches
can still be seen in some places near the Academy). The
school's archives still house letters they exchanged,
bearing assurances that neither the school nor its inhabitants
would be harmed and that Union soldiers
would personnally guarantee the safety of food shipments
to the campus.
At about the same time, in 1866,
Sacred Heart became even more important to area Catholics because of
the miraculous healing of a young postulant named Mary
Wilson. The spirit of John Berchmans, a
much-revered Jesuit priest appeared to the young woman
in a vision and cured her ailment, after traditional
medicine had given up on her survival. The school now
houses a shrine to St.John Berchmans, in an
upstairs room where the miracle is said to have occurred.
But Grand Coteau wasn't the
only town established upon the foundation of the Church. Abbeville got
start the same way in 1845. Pere Antoine Desire Megret
had had a falling out with the board of the church
he pastored in Vermilionville, and set out to build a
new church of his own. He built St. Marie Magdalen's
Chapel on land he purchased for $900 - quite a sum for
a pastor in those days. Soon the parishioners
came, and Abbeville built its quiet prosperity by farming
and milling rice and sugar.
Abbeville also had its share
of problems with cattle rustlers just as Vermilionville had experienced,
Guide notes. Townsmen there ruled that anyone bringing
meat to Abbeville's market must also bring the
branded hides, to prove their product wasn't stolen.
The rules were enforced by loosely organized comites
Growing numbers of parishioners
also helped establish Carencro as a town with its own unique Church
history. It got its name from Indians in the area, who
believed carrion crows came there in search of a huge
monster animal that had died in the vicinity, the Guide
explained. The earliest settlers, however, referred to
the place as La Chapelle, since there was a Catholic
chapel there. In 1874, Pierre Cormier decided a
church was needed, and donated land for its construction.
Cormier, however, believed the
name "Carencro," and its Indian orgin, were offensive and required that
town be named, of all things, St. Pierre. Although the
settlers were willing, the Indian the name stuck and
St. Pierre never made the map. His church was destroyed
twice by fire and then aggain by a tornado
before its fourth rebuilding in 1900.
Although the growth of the Church
fuelled most of the Acadians new settlements during this part of their
history, towns were established for other reasons as
well, the Guide notes. Some were simply outgrowths
of previously established settlements such as Vermilionville
"St. Martinville. Others such as Eunice -
founded in 1892 by Gustave Etienne Fuselier - answered
the call of the Acadians' strong sense of
community. Fuselier wanted his children to grow up in
a town with neighbors, schools and shops, not on a
plantation surrounded only by acres and acres of crops.
Not everyone, though, was so
anxious to see the wilderness tamed. The Guide recounts the reaction of
such settler to the coming of the railroads and the founding
of Scott in 1880-81: "An old settler was averse to having the strange
iron 'beast' running wild across the prairie ... He covered himself with
a white sheet and, as the train came snorting around the bend, jumped out
from a hiding place in the tall grass. Finding after a few trials that
this had no effect, he disgustedly packed his belongings and headed out
further into the wilderness."
But that old settler was certainly
a minority. By the time Basile was founded in 1905, the Acadians were
well established throughout the area and their claim
to south Louisiana as a homeland was undisputed.
Settlers from France, Spain, German and other regions
blended in, adopted the Acadian way of life, and
accepted the Catholic Church as the center of social
and spiritual life.
For the Acadians, history had
repeated itself. Four hundred years after they first arrived in Canada's
Fundy in 1604, the determined Frenchmen had finally established
a lasting home in La Nouvelle Acadie.
This time, there would be no one to force, them out.