History of the Parish
St. Charles Parish was established in 1819. It is the third oldest parish in the Diocese of Lafayette, pre-dated only by the church in St. Martinville and St. Landry of Opelousas.
|The Original Church Built in 1819|
Had it not been for Charles Smith, a wealthy planter and carpenter who came here from Maryland, none of this would have been possible. For the establishment of a church in Grand Coteau, Mr. Smith donated 140 arpents of land to Bishop William Dubourg. The new parish was named St. Charles Borromeo in honor of the donor's patron saint. Mr. Smith died shortly before the first church was even completed. After his death, his heirs received monetary compensation from the Bishop for the acquired land.
Sixty years after the church was built, the parish expressed its need for a larger church building. To acquire the funds necessary for the proposed structure, parishioners hosted fairs, a circus, and Mardi Gras theatricals. The Jesuits, who had been in service to the parish since 1837, and the Religious of the Sacred Heart, who had played a vital role in the community since 1821, requested funds from their Orders and were generously answered. Support came from all over the United States as well as Europe. The most unique contribution came from the Holy Father, Pope Pius IX, who donated a blue cameo to help fund the Grand Coteau church.
|Br. Otten, S.J.|
On March 19, 1879, the cornerstone of the new church building was put into position and blessed. The primary builders were two Jesuit brothers: Cornelius Otten of Holland and Joseph Armand Brinkhaus of Grand Coteau.
The following year the church was consecrated under the title of the Sacred Heart. This was done by popular demand of the parishioners in gratitude to the Sacred Heart who had protected them from the yellow fever epidemic and to the Religious of the Sacred Heart who had donated one-third of the cost of construction of the new edifice. In recent years, the church was renamed under the original title of St. Charles Borromeo.
|The church was built only about 50 feet in front of the original building of St. Charles College and separated from it by several pecan trees. The photograph above shows the church, without its present bell tower, and the old college before it burned in 1907.|
The unique bell tower at the back of the church was built six years after the church was completed. Its purpose was to house the three-thousand pound bell donated by Mrs. Eleanor Millard in honor of her late husband Dr. Millard. He was the attending physician of Mary Wilson, the young postulant cured by St. John Berchmans at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. The bell tower was built by Brother Joe Brinkaus in 1886 at the cost of $700. Considered a rare structure in church architecture, it is one of the most photographed sights of the area.
Founder of this Church.
He was born March 15th, 1751,
And died April 1, 1819.
Pray for the repose of his soul."