“Lord, that I might see,” as the title of one of Charles Barthélémy Roussève’s poems translate into English, are an aptly fitting title for any work on the history of the Roussève family. One can only imagine the pride that would be felt by the forebears of this family, which included a Catholic priest, a nun, an architect, a social worker, and several artists and educators. For the Roussève family’s ancestors, a future such as this one was an aspiration, one with several hurdles to overcome but with will and determination, attainable. Truly, their constant prayer would have been, “Lord, that I might see!”
The Roussève family can be defined simply as Creole, for they have ancestors who were recruited by Iberville, as well as ancestors who were brought to Louisiana in irons. Theirs is a story of struggle and victory, of pain and joy, of oppression and of the cause for freedom.
The first Roussève to settle in New France was a young Canadian named Pierre Louis Alain Roussève, who settled at Mobile along with his wife, Marie Philippe. Having been recruited by Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, they had already settled at Mobile by the enumeration (census) of 25 May 1700. Pierre and Marie’s son Jean Baptiste Roussève (1715-1786), married a fellow Mobile Creole, Marie Therese Colon on 9 October 1737. From their union came Jean Baptiste Alain Roussève, who was born on 9 November 1757 and died at New Orleans on 4 August 1817. Jean Baptiste Roussève père, served as royal interpreter, translating between the native Choctaws and Chickasaws and the French settlers. He is an early example of the Roussève family’s intellect and inclination for language and communication. Later, all of the twentieth-century Roussève siblings would be fluent in French and English, with several having a knowledge of Latin.
Jean Baptiste fils, who probably accompanied his father on his interpreting journeys, met and began relationships with several free women of color. These women each had children for Jean Baptiste, and all of their children took his surname as their own; they were: Catherine Dupard, Anne dite Nanette LeDuf, Agathe Delord, and Antoinette Boisdoré, with whom his relationship seems to have been longest. From his relationship with Boisdoré came Jean Baptiste, Manuel, Sylvain Alain, and Maurice Alain. Some of the descendants of these siblings moved near Edgard in Saint John the Baptist Parish.
From these brothers and from the other descendants of Jean Baptiste Roussève came the large extended clan of colored Creole Roussèves. Jean Baptiste Roussève (1790-1871), son of Jean Baptiste Roussève and Antoinette Boisdoré, was a carpenter who would later live with his family in the settlement of free people color across the Mississippi River from New Orleans near present-day Gretna. Jean Baptiste married a woman named Caroline, and had a son, Emile Roussève.
Emile Roussève married a woman named Marie Félicité Delores Barthélémy, and they had Barthélémy Roussève, who was born about 1840 and died 15 August 1910. Barthélémy was the father of Barthélémy Abel Roussève (5 August 1873-13 November 1932). “B. A. Roussève” as his name often appears, married Marie Valentine Mansion (14 June 1879-August 1944) on 25 June 1901. She was the daughter of Numa Eloi Mansion and Marie Victoire Foster. Her paternal granddaughter was the poet Lucien “Lolo” Mansion and her maternal great-grandfather was Dominque Foster, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans.
In their modest but well-cultured home at 1327 Columbus Street in New Orleans, Barthélémy Abel Roussève and Marie Valentine Mansion reared eight children: Charles Barthélémy Roussève, Ferdinand Lucien Roussève, Maurice Louis Roussève, Numa Joseph Roussève, Rene Joseph Roussève, Marcella Roussève, Leonie Roussève, and Leona Roussève. These children were all baptized and prepared for the sacraments in Saint Augustine’s Church, except for the latter four, who were baptized and instructed at the Holy Redeemer Church, which was opened near their home in the Marigny in 1919. The children attended the Institution Catholique, more commonly known as the Couvent School, which since antebellum days long-passed had stood at the corner of Dauphine and Touro streets. Their father, Barthélémy, served on the board of directors of the historic institution. After it reopened following the Hurricane of 1915, the school was renamed Saint Louis School and placed under the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
In 1915, Saint Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament arrived in New Orleans to open Xavier University Preparatory School and later Xavier University. Among the first registrants in the new school were the three elder Roussève brothers – Charles, Ferdinand, and Maurice. Later Numa, René, and the three girls – Marcella, Leonie, and Leona would enter the “Prep” as well.
It was the cultured and disciplined home prepared by their exemplary mother and father; the early instruction received by scholarly lay instructors; and later the lessons imparted by the good Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which prepared the eight Roussève children to achieve the litany of accomplishments which would be a testament to any family. Fortunately, their sainted mother, Marie Valentine Mansion Roussève, lived to see many of their triumphs. Below we shall attempt to summarize for sake of space some of the accomplishments which have added distinction to this revered old Creole name.
Charles B. Rousseve, wife Mildred Rousseve, daughter Yolande, and twin sons, Roland and Ronald.
Charles Barthélémy Roussève (4 November 1902-28 December 1993) – Among the Roussève children, it was quite clear that the oldest, Charles, was the scholar. He graduated as valedictorian and poet of his class at Xavier Preparatory in 1920. After studying for a time at Marquette University, he received his bachelor’s degree from Straight University in 1926. He was among the first to obtain a master’s degree in history from Xavier University in 1935. The following year, his master’s thesis, The Negro in Louisiana: Aspects of His History and His Literature, became the first book-length work published by the Xavier University Press.
Roussève engaged in the field of education for forty-five years prior to his retirement as principal of Booker T. Washington High School in 1966. In addition to serving as teacher and principal at numerous schools, he also spent summers and evenings teaching courses in French, English, and education. He was an accomplished poet and author whose work appeared in many periodicals.
Mr. Roussève held memberships in the NAACP; the Urban League; Father Clarke Council No. 29, Knights of Peter Claver; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; Association for the Study of Negro Life and History; B-Sharp Music Club; Board of Directors of the Amistad Research Center; Orleans Parish Principals Association; Louisiana Education Association; and the National Education Association.
Ferdinand Lucien Roussève (16 July 1904-18 July 1965) – Ferdinand Lucien was given the name of his poet-great-grandfather, and like him, he had a flare for creativity. Like his other siblings, Ferdinand graduated from Xavier Prep in 1922. After graduating from the Preparatory Department at Xavier University, he enrolled at Coyne Trade and Engineering School in Chicago, where he received his diploma in Mechanical Drawing and Elementary Machine Design in 1924.
In 1925, Roussève was awarded a scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from which he received a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1930. After teaching for a time at Howard University, Ferdinand returned to Louisiana in 1933, to become the first colored registered architect in the state. In 1934, he began serving as Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Fine Arts at Xavier University in New Orleans, where he would continue to serve until 1948. In 1940, he received his master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago. Ferdinand was among the founders of the New Orleans Urban League, of which he served as provisional chairman, and for a time Vice-President.
In 1948, Roussève received his doctoral degree in architecture from Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard, he accepted a position as professor of Fine Arts at Boston College; during the same year he became certified as a registered architect in the state of Massachusetts. In 1953, Roussève served on the Board of Directors for the Urban League of Greater Boston and Cambridge Community Services. In 1958, Roussève became chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Boston University and served on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Interracial Council of Boston. In 1961, he became a State Department delegate to the United States Committee for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Reverend Maurice Louis Roussève, S.V.D. (22 September 1906-27 December 1985) – The signs of a religious vocation were always apparent in young Maurice. He was devoted to his duties in serving the Mass at Holy Redeemer, even continuing to serve the Mass before traveling Uptown to go to the Prep for high school. In 1920, his pastor, the Reverend Father Joseph Lally, S.S.J., recommended him to the Reverend Father Matthew Christman, S.V.D., who was recruiting boys for the newly-established Sacred Heart Seminary at Greenville, Mississippi. With his pastor’s recommendation and the support of his family, Maurice left the Prep to become one of the first students of the first seminary dedicated to training colored young men for the priesthood. Those pioneer days of the seminary were arduous and within a few years, threats from the Klu Klux Klan made it necessary to move the seminary to Bay St. Louis.
It was at the renamed Saint Augustine’s Seminary at Bay St. Louis where Maurice was ordained a priest in the Society of the Divine Word on May 23, 1934. Thousands from across the Gulf Coast states were present to witness Father Roussève and his four confreres be ordained as the first four colored priests of the Society of the Divine Word.
He was appointed assistant at the newly-built Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Lafayette, Louisiana where he remained until 1938. He was transferred to Notre Dame de Perpetuel Secours Church in St. Martinville as assistant, before becoming pastor there in 1941. Father Roussève later served again in Lafayette, prior to becoming chaplain of the Sisters of the Holy Family Motherhouse, where he served from 1975 to 1979.
Rev. Maurice L. Rousseve, S.V.D.
Numa Joseph Roussève (20 December 1908-February 1979) – Like his older Ferdinand, Numa bore a name stemming from his maternal family, that of his mother’s father, Numa Mansion. Like his aptly-named brother, Numa, also had a penchant for art and creativity which would become his life’s work. Numa graduated from Xavier Prep in 1926, after which he attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, the Designer’s Art School of Boston, and the Boston University Department of Fine Arts. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at Xavier University, he did graduate work at Ohio State University and received a Master’s Degree from the University of Indiana in Bloomington.
Unlike his brother, Ferdinand, whose career spanned two far-away states, Numa remained in New Orleans and at dear old Xavier, where he followed Ferdinand’s footsteps, serving as Chair of the Art Department from 1957 to 1974. His special talent was portraiture and among his subjects were Saint Katharine Drexel, Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel, Dr. Rivers Frederick, Mr. James Lewis, Jr., and Dr. Percy P. Creuzot.
Numa and his wife, the former Evelyn Brown, were active members of Holy Ghost Parish. Numa was an officer of the Catholic Interracial Council; a member of Father Schmodry Council No. 52, Knights of Peter Claver; Y.M.C.A.; Urban League; N.A.A.C.P., and the New Orleans Race Relations Committee. He was honored by the Holy See by being named a Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.
Professor Numa J. Rousseve and wife Evelyn, with children, Elaine and Numa, Bartholomew, Elodie and Maurice.
Rene Jacques Roussève (24 July 1911-19 September 1982) – The last of the five boys, Rene, chose to dedicate his career to ameliorating the conditions of those in need of social aid. Like the others, he attended the Saint Louis School, after which he entered Xavier Prep. He graduated in 1929 as valedictorian of his high school class. He enrolled in Xavier University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in English in 1932.
Graduating during the midst of the Depression, he worked as an intake interviewer and field worker for the New Orleans Welfare Committee and Federal Emergency Relief Administration. In 1936, he became a Junior Case Worker for the Louisiana Department of Public Welfare. Roussève enrolled in the Atlanta School of Social Work in 1937, where he studied for two years. In 1940, he enrolled at Xavier University School of Social Service and four years later, Roussève became a Case Supervisor for the Louisiana Department of Public Welfare. In 1962, he enrolled at Louisiana State University School of Social Work. He was a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Roussève retired from the Louisiana Department of Public Welfare in 1966.
Rene J. Rousseve and wife, Irma, with daughter Lorraine Marie Rousseve.
Marcella Marie Roussève, in religion, Sister M. Theresa Vincent Roussève, S.S.F. (12 September 1913-22 April 2008) – Like her older brother, Maurice, Marcella found her vocation within the Church. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family on September 8, 1934. Sister Theresa Vincent studied education at Xavier University. She later did graduate work at Catholic University of America. She professed temporary vows on May 31, 1937 and perpetual vows on May 31, 1943. Sister Theresa Vincent served as a teacher, principal, and staff member at Saint Nicholas in Houston; Holy Ghost and Opelousas Catholic in Opelousas; Saint Paul in Lafayette; and Saint John Berchmans and Saint Mary’s Academy in New Orleans. She also served as a member of the Administrative Leadership Team of her congregation for many years.
Sister M. Theresa Vincent Rousseve, S.S.F.
Leona Anna Roussève (23 August 1916-January 1946) and Leonie Marie Roussève (23 August 1916-26 November 2005) were the youngest of the eight children and were the two precious twins. They both entered Xavier Prep as did their six siblings before them, graduating in the class of 1933. With so many educators in the family, it was no wonder that upon graduation from high school, Leona and Leonie pursued degrees in education at Xavier University. They both graduated cum laude in 1937. Leona died at an early age in 1946, after a brief but successful teaching career. Leonie never married and answered the high calling of an educator for several decades prior to her passing in 2005.
Source: “Here Are the Rousseves”, The Xavier Alumni Review, June 1950, pp. 10-12.