While doing research on my Gobert family recently–in the 1880 census of Opelousas, St. Landry parish–I stumbled upon ancestral family members (Victoire Gobert, Albertine Gobert and Dorcas Gobert) who were boarding at St. Joseph School. I became intrigued when I looked at the list of girls who attended and recognized many surnames of families of the area ( Chavis, Perrodin, Damas, Reed, Biagas, LeBlanc, Savoi, Carriere, Simon, Bellair, Eaglin, Gallien) and I wanted to know more about this institution that housed and educated Creole girls outside of New Orleans.
According to Sister Mary Frances Borgia Hart author of “Violets in the King’s Garden,” who provides a history of the Sisters of the Holy Family, in New Orleans “Veuve (widow) Bernard Couvant left in her will dated 1832 several properties to be used in establishing a school for indigent colored Catholic orphans. An excerpt from this document reads as follows:
I wish and ordain that my land enclosed between Great Man and Union Streets may be perpetually consecrated and employed for the establishment of a free school for colored orphans of the Marigny section.”
But her will was not executed until 1848, 16 years after her initial request.
Later, on their own independent action, the call to develop a school for les enfants de coleur of New Orleans was answered by Henriette Delille and Juliette Gaudin of the Sisters of the Holy Family. The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family was founded in New Orleans November 21, 1842. The founders were Miss Henriette Delille, a native of New Orleans, Miss Juliette Gaudin of Cuba and Miss Marie Jeanne Aliquot of France.
Henritte Delille, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was born in New Orleans in January 1813, daughter of Marie Josephe Dias and Jean Baptiste Delille-Sarpy. Her ancestors were among some of the oldest families in Louisiana—the Debreuil, Dias, Basile, Labeau and Delille-Sarpy.
Marie Jeanne Aliquot arrived in New Orleans from France in 1822 and, after being rescued from a terrifying event by a slave, committed her time and her fortune to the education and welfare of the enslaved.
Juliette Gaudin had come to live in New Orleans from Cuba as a small child and at eighteen was in training to become a nun. She was the daughter of Marie Thereze Sainte La Cardonie and Pierre Gaudin, a teacher who had a school for free children of color on Royal Street. The school focused on free children since at this time in history there were laws against teaching enslaved people to read or write though it was permissible to give them religious instruction. These founders were later joined in 1843 by Miss Josephine Charles of New Orleans all of whom devoted their lives and wealth to the welfare of the colored population, slave and free.
In 1866 two new recruits joined them, Elizabeth Brady and Magdalen Albaugh. Elizabeth was a native of Opelousas. Magdalen was from Natchitoches where her parents had a large plantation.
For some time the Reverend Jean Francois Raymond, acting pastor of Opelousas and brother of Father Gilbert Raymond had been asking for sisters to instruct the neglected colored children of his parish but available sisters were lacking. In 1874 Mother Mary Josephine Charles, Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy Family, left New Orleans for Opelousas taking Sister Magdalen Alpaugh, Mother Elizabeth Bradley and Sister Cecilia Capla. It was a four day journey by boat and rail. The travelers landed in Washington, St. Landry parish by way of Bayou Courtableau and endured the last few miles in a horse drawn wagon. After they arrived they began almost immediately visiting homes and organizations of instruction classes for adults. Among the places visited were Prairie Laurent, Placquemine Point, Gradney Island, Washington, Prairie Ronde, Plaisance and Frilot Cove to encourage parents to send their children to Catholic school. The following week St. Joseph School was opened. Mother Josephine then returned to New Orleans.
The first classes at St. Joseph School were held in the basement of the St Joseph Convent and the girls boarded in the building. Among the boarders who later became Sisters of the Holy Family were Victoria Eaglin, later known as Sister Mary Cyrilla and Mary Broussard, later known as Sister Mary Petronilla. The curriculum consisted of catechism and English then added French, piano, needlework and art. A separate two-room classroom was not built until 1902.
When Holy Ghost Parish was established in 1921 with Father Hyland as its first pastor, St. Joseph School with a high school added was incorporated into it. In 1971 St. Joseph School and Holy Ghost School merged and they were then known as Opelousas Catholic School.
Endnote: Unfortunately, in several attempts contacting the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans and Opelousas additional documentation about St. Joseph School was not to be found. Much of the documentation that would have been archived at the organization in New Orleans was destroyed in the flood following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Sources: 1880 census, ancestry.com; “Violets in the King’s Garden, A History of the Sisters of the Holy Family,” Mary Francces Borgia Hart; “St. Joseph School Centennial Celebration 1875 – 1975,” courtesy Diocese of Lafayette, Office of Archives; “History of Religious Orders, Together with a Brief History of the Catholic Church in Relation to Religious Orders,” Charles Warren Currier, http://www.edline.net/pages/Opelousas_Catholic_School/About_Us/History_of_Opelousas_Catholic; http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMF10Q_Opelousas_Catholic_School_Opelousas_LA