Lafayette, Diocese of
LAFAYETTE, DIOCESE OF
The Diocese of Lafayette (Lafayettensis ), Louisiana, suffragan of the metropolitan See of New Orleans, comprises the civil parishes of Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, and Vermilion in western Louisiana, a total of 5,777 square miles. The diocese was erected Jan. 11, 1918, by Pope Benedict XV, with Jules B. Jeanmard as its first bishop. Catholics number about 65 percent of its population. There are 121 ecclesiastical parishes and 32 missions.
The early history of the area is part of the history of the Archdiocese of new orleans. When Lafayette was chosen as the seat of a new diocese in 1918, St. John the Evangelist parish church became the cathedral. The first bishop, Jules B. Jeanmard, who was the first Lousianaborn priest to become a bishop, and who had served as chancellor and administrator of New Orleans, was consecrated at St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Dec. 8, 1918. He took possession of the new see December 12, and remained its ordinary until his resignation on March 13, 1956; he died on Feb. 23, 1957. Under Jeanmard's 38 years as ordinary several more parishes were created, schools established, and lay involvement in programs of Catholic Action was stressed through religious instruction, spiritual conferences, and retreats. Sodality, scouting, and the retreat movements encouraged the faith of young Catholics and promoted vocations to the priest-hood and religious life. Institutions founded by Jeanmard such as St. Mary's Children's Home (1924), staffed by the Most Holy Sacrament Sisters, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (1949), run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Calais, and Immaculata Seminary (1948), staffed by the Marist Fathers, helped to aid the physical and spiritual welfare of the growing diocese. Diocesan sponsorship of radio and, later, television programs in French and English, and a local newspaper were encouraged. In 1934 Jeanmard welcomed the first Black priests ordained by the Society of the Divine Word.
Bishop Maurice Schexnayder, who had been consecrated auxiliary Feb. 22, 1951, succeeded Bishop Jeanmard on May 24, 1956. Upon his resignation in 1972, Bishop Gerard L. Frey was transferred from Savannah, Georgia, and appointed the third Bishop of Lafayette. The Rev. Harry J. Flynn was appointed coadjutor to Bishop Frey in 1986 and became the fourth Bishop of Lafayette in 1989. When Bishop Flynn was elevated to Coadjutor Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1994, Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell was installed as the fifth bishop in 1994.
Bibliography: Archives, Diocese of Lafayette; r. baudier, The Catholic Church in Louisiana (New Orleans 1939).
[r. e. tracy/
m. g. guidry]