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About Our Church
The parish had a unique beginning in that it was proposed by the late Bishop Jeanmard to afford a place of work for African American priests--the four Divine Word Missionaries ordained at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi on May 23, 1934. They were Fathers Anthony Bourges, Maurice Rousseve, Vincent Smith and Francis Wade. Bishop Jeanmard's decision to accept the four African American priests brought the Lafayette Diocese into a closer relationship with the Divine Word Missionaries who conduct the Bay St. Louis, MS Seminary and who had been in charge of Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette since May, 1929.
When the four priests arrived at Lafayette in the fall of 1934, they found that Fr. Herman Palzelt, director of Holy Rosary Institute, had built a rectory and school for Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and was soon to complete a California mission-style church. A sizable donation to cover the cost of the church came through Mother Katharine Drexel, foundress of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters and Mr. and Mrs. Ovide de St. Aubin of New York. Other sums came from the Board of Black Missions, the Divine Word Missionaries and the Knights of St. Peter Claver. The altar's cost was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Phelan of Beaumont, Texas.
Holy Mass was celebrated in the new church for the first time on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 1934, on which day a simple blessing of the edifice was made. Fr. Palzelt delayed the solemn dedication until February 10, 1935, four days after his 25th Anniversary into priesthood. Although December 23, 1934 can certainly be considered the beginning of the Parish, February 10, 1935 was the official opening. The church's seating capacity was reported in 1935 to be 475. By November 1935 souls within the boundaries of the Parish numbered 1,767.
After five years, more than 2,300 Catholics were parishioners of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. By 1941, the Parish was a center of bursting activity. In 1944, Fr. Bourges petitioned the OPA (wartime board in control of critical building materials) for permission to buy badly need building materials. The OPA held firm in its refusal for more than 2 years. Meanwhile, the Pastor, foreseeing that eventually his petition would be granted, on March 29, 1944 bought property which lay between the Parish church grounds and the Parish cemetary. A house which stood on the property was purchased. The house was renovated and arranged by August 10, 1944 to accommodate five Sisters of the Holy Family. On September 17, 1944, Bishop Jeanmard dedicated this new convent. When the Sisters moved in it marked Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish as the first southern parish to have all African-American residents in both the rectory and convent.