St. Martin Spiritual Tour
Oct 27, 2020
Just in time for All Saints Day, an introduction to 5 of Cajun Country’s Most Sacred Spots
In South Louisiana, the secular and the sacred tend to overlap. Faith permeates our culture; it’s why you see statues of the Virgin Mary in front yards all across Acadiana, why you can’t find a menu serving meat on a Friday during Lent. The story of present day St. Martin Parish begins, of course, in the past, with the story of the British expulsion of the Acadians in 1779; the French settlers in Acadie, or present day Nova Scotia, migrated to Louisiana when they were exiled for their Catholic beliefs. Today, their venerable churches and religious landmarks add to the parish’s rich historic appeal. Below are some of the must-see spiritual stops in and around St. Martin Parish to explore, ripe for reflection and ritual.
Photo courtesy of Fr. Michael Champagne.
St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church. Founded in 1765 and known as the “Mother Church of the Acadians,” St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church is one of the oldest surviving churches in Louisiana and is the centerpiece of St. Martinville. The congregation also hosts the annual St. Lucy Festival of Lights, where it turns downtown St. Martinville aglow with the lighting of the church square. The evening’s festivities also include mass, a live nativity, a chariot parade, a choral performance, and a memorial lighting.
The Deportation Cross. The Acadian Memorial Museum is home to Louisiana’s only replica of the Deportation Cross originally erected at the Grand-Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia. The site memorializes the 2,000 Acadian families persecuted by the British in 1755. In 2003, St. Martinville was chosen by the Acadian Odyssey International Commemorative Project to be one of the locations of the 800-pound replica in a series of monuments dedicated to the Grand Dérangement.
Notre Dame Catholic Church. This predominantly African American church was established in 1938, when it opened its doors to Frs. Rousseve and Fr. Bourges—two of the first Black priests to be ordained in 1934. Earlier this month, Notre Dame celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first seminary, The Society of the Divine Word, that trained African American priests and religious brothers in the South.
French Mass at St. Bernard Catholic Church. For an especially traditional Cajun experience, observe Mass performed en français at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Breaux Bridge. The church offers a French Mass on the second Saturday of every month.
Lagniappe: The Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau. It’s worth the drive down the road to Grand Coteau to set sights on one of the oldest institutions of learning west of the Mississippi. The Academy of the Sacred Heart was founded in 1821 by two nuns in St. Landry Parish, and survived the Civil War despite being occupied by Union troops. It’s also known to be the site of the first miracle in the United States ratified by the Vatican dating back 150 years. Tours of the historic campus are available by appointment.