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Sacred Places … Historic Churches

April 11, 2021

Historic Churches

St. Landry Catholic Church

Founded as the “Parish Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Post of Opelousas” by Capuchin monks, St. Landry Catholic Church is often called the Mother Church of Acadiana because of the many church parishes carved from it. The first church building was located on the banks of the River of Opelousas (later renamed Bayou Courtableau) at Church’s Landing (now Washington, LA). In 1798, a wooden church building was constructed in Opelousas. The new church was renamed St. Landry, in honor of the Bishop of Paris, who lived about A.D. 650. A new church building was erected in 1828. That building was demolished in 1908 so that another building would be built. The present St. Landry Catholic Church building was constructed in 1908-1909, with Reverend J. Engberink serving as a priest. 

Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church

The Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana, is the oldest Methodist church congregation west of the Mississippi River. This church’s origins can be traced back to when Elisha Bowman came to Louisiana and organized a Methodist Society in 1806. He accepted 17 members the first year. Services were held in a community church between Landry and Vine Streets, near Cain Street. In 1846, a property was purchased from the Fonda family at North Lombard and East Bellevue’s corners to build a new church. In 1881 a parsonage was built. The church was replaced in 1902 with a new structure. The second church was torn down in 1955, and a new church was built that same year. The third church was consecrated on March 18, 1956, and renamed the Louisiana Memorial Methodist. 

The Opelousas First Presbyterian Church

The Opelousas First Presbyterian Church, now Hope Presbyterian Church, was organized on May 20, 1871. On June 27, 1871, the first service was held within the Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church and future church services took place at First Baptist Church. In need of a church building of their own, the organization purchased the property at Main and Cherry Street in Opelousas on March 21, 1882. Hope Presbyterian Church is now a part of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and is pastored by Rev. Dean Rydbeck.

Little Zion Baptist Church

Little Zion Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist church in the city. Organized in a blacksmith’s shop on June 29, 1867, the original congregation consisted of 16 members. Following the leadership of the Rev. J. P. Davenport, the church was named the Opelousas African Baptist Church. Two years later, the first house of worship was constructed by Joseph Corbes, who was paid $500. By 1887, more land was acquired from the police jury, and the church expanded. The name was changed to the Little Zion Church in 1892.

First Baptist Church of Opelousas

First Baptist Church of Opelousas was founded on November 6, 1880. Following a series of revival services held at the courthouse, a small congregation was formed. The first wood frame meeting house was erected on Bellevue Street in 1883. In 1952, a brick building was constructed. Today, the church building serves Bellevue Street Baptist Church.

Mt. Olive Baptist Church

Mt. Olive Baptist Church can trace its beginnings back to 1897 when it was one of only two private schools for Blacks. The school was called the 7th District Baptist School and later changed its name to the Black Academy at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. 

Holy Ghost Catholic Church

Holy Ghost Catholic Church – At the request of black parishioners who were attending segregated services at nearby St. Landry Catholic Church to have a church parish of their own, the Diocese of Lafayette called upon the Holy Ghost Fathers to assist with this mission. Father James A. Hyland was appointed to this task and upon his arrival to Opelousas in October 1920, he called a special meeting to create a church to serve the area’s black population. In November of that same year, a charter of the Holy Ghost Church was granted. Father Hyland united St. Joseph School, a Catholic elementary school founded in 1874, to the newly formed parish. The school was called Holy Ghost. There was no church building at the time, so Mass and other services were held in the school’s auditorium. In January 1921, Father Hyland announced that a temporary church would be erected on Walnut Street, with a more spacious building planned for the future. The Walnut Street Church, which included a high school, was dedicated in March 1921. In 1923, Holy Ghost purchased land that included a grand Creole-style home built by Opelousas newspaper pioneer Joel Sandoz. The house became the Holy Ghost Rectory.  Construction began on a new brick church in 1948 on north Union street. It was officially dedicated on Sunday, June 5, 1949.

Temple Emanuel

While the former Temple Emanuel was established in 1929, the history of the Jewish religion in Opelousas dates back to 1865, when Jews in Opelousas purchased a cemetery.  Some 12 years later, the first Jewish congregation was founded as Gemiluth Chassodim (Acts of Loving Kindness). After Gemiluth Chassodim became defunct, a new congregation, Temple Emanuel, was founded in 1929. The congregation erected a large brick synagogue on Main Street in Opelousas in 1930. Over time, members attended services less frequently and the older, more devoted congregants, those who arrived with the first wave of Jewish immigration to Opelousas, began to die. Membership remained constant nonetheless, mainly due to the increasing number of children in the congregation. Surprisingly, these Jewish youths remained in Opelousas rather than moving to the big city for other opportunities. However, despite their noble dedication to their hometown, this new generation’s commitment to the Jewish community proved weaker than their parents. By 1942, the congregation services disbanded altogether. Although the church is no longer operational, the building still stands in downtown Opelousas.

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and Greater Union Baptist Church

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and Greater Union Baptist Church are two of three historic churches set ablaze in arson attacks in St. Landry Parish in 2019. Both over 100 years old, the churches served as a source of solace for black St. Landry Parish residents who experienced racial discrimination and economic hardship. 

St. Joseph Methodist Church for Colored People

St. Joseph Methodist Church for Colored People – This small, single frame wood structure was built in 1948 as a house of worship for the African American Methodist congregation in the small, rural St. Landry Parish village of Palmetto. The church served the faithful until services ceased in the late 1980s. In 2000, the church building was moved to Le Vieux Village.

Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church

Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church In November 1940, under the direction of Father Colliard, several lots on the western edge of Opelousas were purchased from the “Mornhinveg Heirs.” Work on the church foundation began in December of 1941, with actual construction beginning in late January 1942. It was impossible to obtain electric light fixtures at that time due to war conditions, so temporary droplights were installed. The structure was completed and dedicated in October 1942. Our Lady of Mercy Chapel served as a mission of the mother church of St. Landry from the time of its construction in 1942 until March 1946 when Bishop Jeanmard signed a decree declaring the Church of Our Lady of Mercy dismembered from the Church Parish of St. Landry and erected as a parish of its own. 

Historic Cemeteries

St Landry Catholic Church Cemetery

Established circa 1798St. Landry Catholic Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Opelousas. Located on land donated by Michel Prudhomme in 1796. It is the final resting place of numerous New York Orphan Train Riders and many veterans of wars dating back to the American Revolution. 

FindAGrave Link

Myrtle Grove Cemetery

Located at the city’s main eastern entrance, Myrtle Grove Cemetery was once known as the “Protestant Cemetery.” In April 1837, the City of Opelousas named a two-person committee to locate four arpents of land for a public burying ground. A sexton was appointed to Myrtle Grove in May 1842. The sexton was responsible for keeping the grounds in repair, digging graves, and keeping records of those interred. Graves had to be dug six feet deep. The charge was $5 for this service and $2.50 for a slave’s grave. The poor or those without means were buried free of charge. No one could be buried without notifying the sexton, and, if enough daylight remained, the sexton was to have the grave.

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Jewish Cemetery

Last modified: May 18, 2021

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