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The French Church

After the division of the congregation between German and non Germans, and the establishment of Mater Dolorosa German Church in Carrollton, St. Mary of the Nativity became popularly known as the French church. Father Ceuppens left during the first week in January, 1872, and Father Schaefer continued through the month and left.


Archbishop Perche assigned Rev. Yves Marie Rivoallan as pastor of St. Mary's Nativity Church, and shortly after Father Ceuppens left, he took charge of Carrollton's French church. During his first year as pastor, 80 Baptisms were reported. The total revenues for the year were $1715.30, including $801.10 from pew rent, $185 from funerals, and $405.20 from collections and boxes.


Rev. J. Dumas was a visitor in the parish briefly in September, 1872, but Father Rivoallan had no regular assistant and he served his vast parish alone. Rev. Albert Vaudray also spent a short time at St. Mary's in February, 1873.


At the beginning of March, 1873, Father Rivoallan, after a pastorate of only a little more than one year, was assigned to the pastorate of Arnaudville, La., later serving for many years at Franklin, La. Archbishop Perche then sent Rev. Rene Vallee to assume the pastorate of St. Mary's Nativity in March, 1873. He held this post for 19 years, the longest pastorate up to his time.


Father Vallee was an energetic and conscientious priest, who devoted all his attention to his vast parish, including the west bank for a time and its Guardian Angels' Church at Waggaman. He promoted Catholic education consistently and sought to improve educational facilities in the parish, besides giving constant attention to the Carrollton asylum and its charges. Characteristic of Father Vallee was an inspiring self-sacrificing spirit that led him to divest himself of his own belongings for the sake of his church and his parishioners. A number of parochial societies were organized and under his zealous direction they flourished, instilling a spirit of piety and devotion in the parishioners. Another phase of his parish work was attention to the Negroes of his flock, for whom he did much.


No assistant was assigned to Father Vallee, but Rev. P. Blake was at St. Mary's for a few days in November, 1873. During January, 1874 Father Vallee was ill and Father Albert Vaudray administered the parish, remaining through May. Again from June to October of that year, Father Vallee was away from Carrollton, and Rev. Antoine Pouillon was in charge for that time. Seventy-seven Baptisms were registered for the year 1874, the year that Carrollton was absorbed by the city of New Orleans. Rev. L. J. Chabrier and Rev. J. Jaxel were visitors in November, 1875. During 1877, Rev. J. M. Beronnet was at St. Mary's in March, and again in April, 1879 and June, 1884. Rev. L. A. Chasse came in June, 1877 and Rev. J. J. Grimes in August of that year.


The year 1878 was one of tragedy, yellow fever sweeping through the area, leaving in its wake thousands stricken and thousands dead. Father Vallee was ill during September, and Rev. John D. Flannagan, later pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, replaced him. The pastor of St. Theresa's Church, Rev. P. M. T. Massardier, visited St. Mary's and officiated in 1886. Rev. M. Kelly, pastor of Lake Charles, was at St. Mary's in June, 1888. Father Vallee visited his native France in 1889, and during his absence, the parish was administered by Rev. P. P. Klein, C.S.C., and Rev. Father Molloy, C.S.C., alternately, from May 18 to October 7.


In 1884, Father Vallee estimated the white Catholic population of Carrollton belonging to his parish at 600 and Colored at 250. The number of Communions for the year totaled about 1000, plus 400 at Easter. The first Communion class included 40 children. Between July 1, 1884, and July 1, 1885, there were 70 Baptisms at St. Mary'S Nativity Church, 10 marriages and eight funerals.


The effects of Father Vallee's spiritual labors are evident in the annual reports, particularly, in the number of communicants. The latter totaled 1500 in 1889 and 1891. The Baptisms in 1888 reached 88, and by 1891, there were 101, including Negroes and adults.


In 1889, Father Vallee spent $380 for improvements on the church, and in 1891, he added two new statues and some new candelabra, which cost $250. The pastor managed through skimping and sacrifices to keep the parish expenses within the revenues, but for two periods, the disbursements exceeded the parish contributions. In 1888, the parish revenues were $1058, and disbursements $1437. The 1891 report shows intake of $1560.65 and expenses of $1846.40, but the, latter included new statues and candelabra.


Father Vallee promoted better Catholic living and more zeal and piety among the members of his congregation by establishing a number of parish societies. In 1884, the Children of Mary had 30 members, the Society of St. Louis Gonzaga had 20 and St. Andrew's Society (for the Colored) had 40. Several new organizations were added in 1888 - The Society of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Society of the Rosary, the League of the Sacred Heart, the Society of "Bona Mors" (Happy Death), and the Society of the Souls in Purgatory.


The pastor also noted a continued increase in the number of parishioners. In 1884, he had reported about 850, but by 1889 this had gone up to 1000, and for 1891, he reported 1100. In 1888, Archbishop Janssens Confirmed a class of 48, but in 1889, the class included 62.


An activity that occupied much of Father Vallee's time and efforts was the parochial school. The Sisters of Charity continued the care of the parochial school, teaching the girls, while laymen looked after the instruction of the boys. In 1881, Father Vallee obtained the services of the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross, who conducted Holy Angels academy, an orphanage and several parochial schools in New Orleans. On August 31, 1881, they took over the school, which became St. Mary's School and their house, St. Joseph's Convent. However, records of that time list the school as St. Joseph's School. Instructions were given in French. In 1882, Sister Mary of St. Bruno was in charge, and with her on the school staff were three other Sisters. That year the enrollment stood at 60 - girls and boys. The boys were still taught by laymen. In 1885, Sister Mary of St. Charles served as directress of the school, and the staff continued with three other Sisters. The enrollment that year showed 30 boys and 40 girls.


The annals of the Marianites state: "For five years of its existence, there were many misfortunes that befell the mission: Cyclone, poverty and hardships were a few of the trials that the Sisters suffered. The chronicler states that so poorly was the house furnished, the pastor in his excessive charity completely dismantled his own home by giving his furniture, piece by piece, to the Sisters. It is also related that at one time, after a cyclone, the Sisters possessed one fork. Turns were taken to use it, until the Provincial Superior arrived one day and learned the true state of affairs. Needed household furnishings were 'rushed' to the Sisters on 'The Dummy,' a slow train of ancient lineage. It took two days for them to arrive at Carrollton ... Exhibition invitations bear witness to the independence of the settlement. The (Post Office) receipts were signed by an assistant to the postmaster of Carrollton. The exhibition (for the school) was held at the courthouse."


A cyclone struck the Carrollton area on April 18, 1882, and the Sisters' house and the school suffered considerable damage. But repairs were made by Father Vallee and school was resumed.


Finally, at the end of the school term in 1886, the Marianite Sisters decided to give up the St. Joseph's School, and they returned to their convent at New Orleans. For two years the school was taught by lay teachers, the enrollment in 1888 showing 20 girls and 50 boys.


Father Vallee turned once again to the Sisters of Charity, and they took charge of the girls again in 1889, at which time there were 75 pupils in St. Joseph's parochial school, and in 1891, 40 boys and 15 girls, under four Sisters.


In 1889, Father Vallee undertook a project that he had long cherished. This was the opening of a school for the Negro children of Carrollton. It opened in 1889 with 25 boys and 25 girls, and one lay teacher. The school was named St. Louis. In 1891, there were 20 boys and 50 girls, and two lay teachers.


Meanwhile the Carrollton Female Orphan Asylum continued to provide care for sickly and convalescent children, but also other orphans. After the death of Sister Honoria, Sister Ernestine directed the institution, which, in 1880, had a staff of four Sisters caring for 80 children. In 1886, Sister Ernestine was still in charge and both staff and enrollment remained about the same.


From the time that Father Vallee assumed the pastorate at St. Mary of the Nativity Church, there were difficulties over the parish boundaries. In 1873, he wrote to Father Ceuppens and to Father Rivoallan, the preceding pastors, asking for information about parish limits when they were stationed at Carrollton. During most of the 1870 decade, regular pastors were stationed at Waggaman on the west bank - Father Blanc and Father Jaxel - so Father Vallee was relieved of serving that area which stretched from the Company Canal to the Labranche, Plantation, at least for a time. But he resumed care of it around 1880, until Father Carponcin was stationed at Guardian Angels' Church at Waggaman in 1883: However, the parish again became vacant, and Father Vallee resumed care of the territory. Then Father Fraering of Gretna claimed that this belonged to his parish as he served the church for a time. Finally, Archbishop Janssens in 1889, decided that this west bank area belonged to St. Mary's Nativity. In 1890, the new parish of St. Francis of Assisi, New Orleans, was erected, and part of the St. Mary's Nativity territory, according to Father Chasse, the Chancellor, was cut off and given to the new church division. In 1891, when the Jesuit Fathers founded Holy Name of Jesus Church on St. Charles Avenue, the limits were again changed, and Pine Street became the lower limit of St. Mary's Nativity parish. The upper limits between the parishes of St. Mary's Nativity and St. Mary's at Kennerville remained a matter of uncertainty and dispute for several years.


Father Beronnet came, back for a brief visit at St. Mary's in 1891. In July, 1892, Father Vallee became ill, and his entries in the registers of the French church end with July 22. Too sick to continue, he went down to New Orleans for medical attention. Worn from long years of self-sacrificing labor and the directing of a difficult parish that embraced a vast territory, zealous Father Vallee died in December, 1892, mourned by the people of Carrollton, who regarded him with great esteem.


When Father Vallee left at the end of July, Archbishop Janssens sent Rev. Joseph Jeremiah Ferguson, a native of South Carolina, to serve as administrator of Nativity Parish. He had just arrived, and at the time was only 36 years old. Father Ferguson was one of the most forceful priests to serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. From Nativity Church, at the end of December, 1892, he went to Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church, Raccourci, LA, as pastor and remained there until his death in 1911.


Father Ferguson, in his own, energetic, colorful and impressive way, directed the destinies of the Carrollton church for five months, through December, 1892. On January 1, 1893, Rev. Marius Welte, a French priest, arrived from St. Peter's Church, Carencro, LA, to take charge of Nativity Church of Carrollton.


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