What were the first churches in the city of Opelousas?
I’ve always wondered about some of the things we take for granted today at Opelousas. How did businesses get started? When were the churches organized? Who created our community organizations? Etc.
I wanted to know more about the development of this historic place. Through research over the years, I have discovered many firsts on Opelousas. I have shared much of this information in the book “Opelousas First” which was published in 2014. I will share other firsts in this column from time to time.
As with any story, when we have access to more information, we discover more facts and our story is constantly updated and corrected. As I share these early facts that I discovered, I ask you to let me know if any of them need to be changed or corrected.
Using my research, let’s talk about a few Opelousas Firsts:
Opelousas places of worship
Catholic Church: The first church established at Opelousas Poste was the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Church’s Landing in the 1760s, near present-day Washington.
The first church was built around 1767. It consisted of a complex of three buildings: a small church, a rectory and a kitchen. Church records begin in 1777. The site of the church was moved in 1798 to its present location in the northern part of town and was eventually renamed Saint-Landry, in honor of the Bishop of Paris which lived in the 600s. The current building of St. Landry Church was completed in 1908 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The first Catholic church for blacks in Opelousas was the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit, organized in 1920. In 1949 a new church, the present church which can accommodate 800 people, was built on North Union Street at a cost of $ 100,000. Today, this church is one of the largest black Catholic parishes in the United States.
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Protestant Church: The first Protestant church building in Opelousas was non-sectarian, built in 1825.
The church was built with funds pledged by local citizens. Subscribers have agreed to make their donation before the first day of May 1824 to committee members George King, Seth Lewis, Robert Taylor, David L. Todd, Luke Lesassier, John Moore and E. Littell, or to any person authorized by them. . According to the list of subscribers, the church was to be built in the town of Opelousas, close to the land used as a Protestant cemetery, which is now the Myrtle Grove Cemetery.
Methodist Church: Elisha W. Bowman was sent as a missionary to Louisiana by Bishops Whatcoat and Asbury, reaching Opelousas in late 1805. He organized the first Methodist society at Opelousas in early 1806. It was not just the first Methodist church in Opelousas and Louisiana, but the first west of the Mississippi River, making the Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church the cradle of Methodism in our state.
On January 6, 1847, the Louisiana Methodist Annual Conference met and held for the first time at Opelousas. The conference was chaired by Bishop Joshua Soule at the Opelousas courthouse.
Today, a historical marker is located on the church grounds at the corner of Bellevue and Lombard streets designating Opelousas as the birthplace of the Methodist Church in Louisiana.
In the early years, the first church services were held in a small, one-room, dome-topped community church, which stood across the ravine between Landry and Vine streets. Services were carried out at this site until a church was erected at the corner of Bellevue and Lombard streets in 1846.
In 1903, a larger wooden building, erected on the same corner, was consecrated by Bishop Charles Betts Galloway. In 1955-56, a new brick church was built on this site. The old church was sold in 1955 to the Women’s Service League, dismantled and moved to South City Park where it was rebuilt as the Teenage Center.
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The first Methodist church for blacks in Opelousas was St. Mark’s Methodist Episcopal Church held during a prayer service at the home of Louis Minor in 1867. Bishop Ames of the Mississippi Mission Conference sent a minister to serve the congregation and the church was officially established. A small building for religious services was erected at this time.
On March 11, 1880, Louis Minor Church Trustees Henry Emerson, London Watson, Claiborne Hewes, and George Johnson, along with Pastor Washington Brooks, purchased land on Market Street for the congregation from Napoleon Wilkerson. In 1924, with the Reverend Wade H. Hampson, a new church was erected. The name of the church was officially changed in 1939 to St. Mark’s Methodist Church. In February 1975, the old church was demolished and replaced with a new brick building. He resides on South Market Street in Opelousas on the property purchased by the congregation in 1880.
Baptist Church: The first Baptist church in Opelousas was the African Baptist Church in Opelousas, held in a smithy on June 29, 1867. On August 16, 1869, the Rev. JP Davenport and the founding fathers asked the jury of the police of the parish of St. Landry donated land to build a church, rectory and cemetery.
James Thompson, chairman of the police jury, located and demarcated the land and it was transferred to the church the same day. The first church building was built soon after. The name of the church has been changed to Little Zion Baptist Church.
In 1968, the old building was moved from the property. Dedication ceremonies were held on January 21, 1968, and a new brick church was built for the congregation. This building on North Academy Street is now the place of worship for members of the Opelousas Church.
The first Opelousas Baptist Church was organized in 1880 by Dr. WC Friley and the Reverend Ed W. Kelley. The first pastor was Rev. WP Carter. The first church building was built in 1883 on property acquired by WL Truman, a cousin of President Harry S. Truman. A new brick church was built in 1952 and the old wooden building was finally demolished. Today, the 1952 church building houses the Baptist Church on rue Bellevue.
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Episcopal Church: In 1845, the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, DD, Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, visited Opelousas, preached in the Protestant chapel, and administered the rite of confirmation. Ten years later, he returned to organize the first episcopal church in Opelousas.
The first pastor was Reverend David Kerr, who preached his first sermon at Opelousas on June 15, 1855, in the courthouse. The first church was erected in the early 1860s at the corner of Union and Landry streets. It was consecrated by Bishop Polk on March 1, 1861.
A new church building was constructed in 1880 and remained at this corner for decades, until 1959 when it was dismantled and moved to South City Park. It is now used by the Petit ThÃ©Ã¢tre Opelousas. The new Epiphany Episcopal Church building, built 1959-60, is located on South Union Street in Opelousas.
Presbyterian Church: The first Presbyterian Church was organized in Opelousas on May 20, 1871. The prime minister was James A. McConnell, who served from May 30, 1871 to August 1872. The founding members of the church were: James A. Houston, Mary A Houston, Kate Houston, Dr. Louis Hadden, Cora Truman, John B. Wilson, Louise E. Wilson, and Annie E. Wilson. The first church was erected in 1883 at the corner of Main and Cherry streets. The first religious services were held in March 1883.
Jewish Congregation: By 1865, as more and more Jewish immigrants arrived in the Opelousas area, the local Jewish community had its own cemetery. In 1877, the community formed a congregation, with Joseph Bloch as president and Emanuel Phillips as secretary.
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Services around this time were held at the Masonic Lodge until a small temple could be built. This congregation lasted until the 1920s. In 1929 Temple Emanuel was founded with 65 members and absorbed the previous congregation. In 1930, this congregation erected a brick synagogue on land they owned, donated by the Haas family, in Opelousas. This building, although no longer used for services, still exists today on Main Street South. It was recently sold and will be restored for commercial use.
Look for more early Opelousas in future articles.
Let’s talk about Opelousas again.