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It’s Celebration Time!

02/06/2015 07:56AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier

By Lisa Hanchey

There’s a whole lot of celebrating going on in St. Martin Parish during 2015! This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Acadians’ arrival at Bayou Teche, as well as the establishment of St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church. To honor these momentous occasions, St. Martin de Tours, the City of St. Martinville and the Acadian Memorial have a slate of special events planned throughout the year.

“St. Martin de Tours was established because the Acadians arrived in this area in 1765 and substantially bumped up the population, so there was a need for a church in the parish,” explains Elaine Clément, director of tourism for the City of St. Martinville and curator/director of the Acadian Memorial. “So, there are two different anniversaries going on.” 

Celebration For St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church

Founded in 1765 by a group of Acadian exiles, St. Martin de Tours is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the US and the third oldest in Louisiana. The church was incorporated by an act of the Legislature approved March 7, 1814. Another act, approved March 16, 1820, authorized a lottery to raise funds for a church building. The current church structure, which was the second building constructed on the site, was dedicated on June 2, 1844. “It’s the oldest church building and the oldest parish in the Diocese of Lafayette,” says the Rev. Rusty P. Richard, pastor of St. Martin de Tours, who has served as a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette for 16 years. 

From 2012 through 2015, St. Martin de Tours underwent a significant restoration. To honor its renovation and 250th anniversary, St. Martin de Tours is holding an invitation-only rededication ceremony on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Bishop Michael Jarrell will preside over the Mass of Thanksgiving. “The reason we chose June 2 was because that was the date when the church was originally dedicated,” Father Richard explains. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, the church will hold the 250th Anniversary Celebration. Heading up the special Mass for the Feast of St. Martin is His Eminence Cardinal Gérald Cardinal Lacroix from Quebec. “When St. Martin de Tours was established, the people would have been from the Diocese of Quebec,” Father Richard says. 

St. Martin de Tours’ Anniversary celebration culminates with a televised Midnight Mass on Dec. 25, 2015. 

Celebration For St. Martin Parish

Banners are flying for St. Martin Parish’s 250th Year Anniversary of the Acadians’ arrival in 1765, when acting governor Charles Philippe Aubry sent 193 refugees to establish a village and sharecrop cattle on land owned by Jean-Antoine Bernard d’Hauterive. To accompany the Acadians, Gov. Aubry sent a French Priest, Fr. Jean Louis Civrey, who became the first resident curate. Civrey called his new parish “l’Église des Attakapas” for the Attakapas District, then redubbed it “l’Église St-Martin de Tours,” for which St. Martinville was reportedly named. In 1817, St. Martinville was incorporated as the sixth community to be named as a city under the laws of the State of Louisiana. 

To celebrate its 250th birthday, St. Martin Parish is adding some new exhibitions to its annual events. “We are taking on the theme for the year,” Clément says.

Kicking off the festivities is the Acadian Memorial Festival and Wooden Boat Congrès at Evangeline Oak Park on March 21. The museum-style festival highlights Cajun traditions and music, with activities including a reenactment of the Acadians’ arrival on the Bayou Teche, French-speaking theatre, French table, round dance classes, wooden boats, arts and crafts, children’s activities and, of course, lots of food. 

On April 6, the city is collaborating with St. Martin de Tours Church for a special 250th exhibit at the Maison Duchamps. “The exhibit will include artifacts of the church – vestments, art, all kinds of precious objects from the church,” Clément says. “It will feature an interesting assortment of very old and some very valuable pieces.” 

July 28 is the annual Acadian Day of Remembrance, a memorial service for the Acadians who died during the deportation years. For this year’s event, the Acadian Memorial will open the second part of the 250th anniversary exhibit. This will include the original parish registers from Canada brought by the Acadians to Louisiana, which are housed at the archives of the Diocese in Baton Rouge. “When the Acadians left Canada, they took, where they could, the church parish registers that recorded the births, deaths and other information,” Clément explains. “Several still exist in the world, and three of them are in the archives of the Diocese in Baton Rouge. We’ll tie those records into the records from St. Martin de Tours Church.”

For the National Day of the Acadians on August 15, 2015, the parish will host a full day of activities at Cajun Memorial. 

From Oct. 3 through 11 is the Grand Réveil Acadian (Great Acadian Awakening), which is taking place over the entire region of South Louisiana in New Orleans, Houma, Lake Charles and Lafayette. The Grand Réveil Day in St. Martinville will be on Oct. 8. “It’s our mini-version of the Congrès,” Clément says. “We’ll have a genealogy presentation, we’ll do some theater and poetry in French and then we’ll have the local students doing something in French.”

For the Grand Réveil, St. Martin Parish intends to honor not only its French-speaking ancestors, but other cultures in the area. Before the arrival of the Acadians, Native Americans established hunting camps in the St. Martinville area, with the nearest village being an Attakapas Indian settlement further south on Bayou Teche near present-day Jeanerette. The first Attakapas District census taken in 1766 listed 40 white Creole and Acadian households, two of which included African and Creole slaves. Later, Germans and Italians arrived and expanded the community. “People think of St. Martinville as the Acadians, but there are so many more cultures here,” Clément notes. “There are fewer Acadians than there are other cultures here. So, one of the things we want to do during that day is to tie in our relationships with Native Americans, the French and the African community.”

Life+Leisure St. Martin Parish 250-Year Anniversary St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church National Day of the Acadians

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