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 Religious faith fuels Acadians expansion efforts: Part 7
By Alice Ferguson
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 move on.
     He wasn't around to tell that to the Acadians in the last half of the 19th century, but they seemed to get the
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 its
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, the
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
de vigilance.
     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 the
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 one
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 Bay of
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.

© 1994 Lafayette Daily Advertiser [July 17, 1994]