History of St. Peter the Apostle Church
It was the mid-1890’s when a long, bumpy trip by horse and buggy was made each month to Gueydan by a Dutch missionary named Monsignor Joseph Peeters. During the administration of His Excellency, Archbishop Placide Louis Chapelle of New Orleans, Msgr. Peeters, Pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Jennings, came to town celebrating a monthly Mass, hearing confessions, and baptizing children, first in homes that could accommodate the worshippers, then in a building (formerly a saloon) owned by Mr. Paul Broussard. In 1897, succeeding Fr. Msgr. Peeters was a Fr. Reynald, assistant Pastor in the new parish of St. Michael in Crowley. Gueydan, considered a mission of Crowley, was now able to celebrate the Mass and other sacraments more regularly. Thus, she began to prosper spiritually.
In the latter part of 1902 and the beginning of 1903, Mr. and Mrs. Fermin Toups, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Toups, Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Fortier, Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Broussard, and Mr. And Mrs. L.P. Theriot, Sr., organized a committee and began planning for a church building. Each month one of these families gave some form of entertainment to raise funds for a new church- gumbos, jambalayas, card parties, house parties, etc., and raised from $20-$60 per month, depending on the generosity of the participants. More families became interested in this apostolate, including the Mr. and Mrs. E.E. Broussard, Mr. and Mrs. Alcee Savoie, Mr. and Mrs. J.G. O’Neill, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hungerford, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Breaux, and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Broussard, among others.
In 1906 the committee wrote to His Excellency, Archbishop Joseph Blenk in New Orleans asking if the archdiocese would supply Gueydan with a resident Priest if the community could build a church. The Archbishop replied favorably and the Catholics of Gueydan went to work seeking donations- eggs, pigs, etc.- for a bazaar. The donations and the proceeds of the bazaar amounted to $1,400; construction of a church edifice was then underway. Mr. L.P. Theriot drew plans for the church, bought the needed materials, employing and bargaining for the needed labor and carpenters. Among the men who worked on the church were Mr. Damas Guidry, Mr. Albert Guidry, and Mr. Merrill Chauvin. All materials were purchased from local dealers who sold them to the church at cost.
On property donated by Mr. Henri Pierre Gueydan, construction of the church began in the spring of 1907 and was completed in the fall of that year. The church building was rectangular in shape with no ceiling. Having been informed that the church building was completed, Archbishop Blenk responded promising a resident pastor if there was also a suitable rectory. A building was procured and Fr. A.B. Colliard, a native of France, was assigned in December of 1907 as the first canonical Pastor of Gueydan. This jovial, hard working Priest came to an empty, ceiling-less church building and an unpaid rectory. Within a year, however, he and his 2,000 parishioners finished the church, purchased an altar, linens, vestments and furnishings for the church, decreased its $1120 debt, and paid for the rectory, located at Levert and Seventh Streets, nearly a block from the church. It was unanimously agreed a a parish meeting to give the name of “St. Peter the Apostle” to the church, after the patron saint of Mr. Jean Pierre Gueydan, the founder of the town. Right from the start, Fr. Colliard also had the duties of caring for mission chapels at Morse and Shell Beach.
After seven busy years, Fr. Colliard was replaced by Fr. Joseph LeBerre, a fellow Frenchman, who centered his attention on the education of children. In 1919, shortly after Pope Benedict XV separated the Diocese of Lafayette from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Fr. I.J. Lauzon, also from France, assumed leadership for a short but enriching period of time. He deeply loved his flock and, they loved him. This and improvements on the church and rectory buildings were highly praised by Bishop Jules Jeanmard, first Bishop of the newly-erected Diocese of Lafayette. Even in his retirement, Fr. Lauzon desired to leave St. Peter’s his life insurance money and property, but particular circumstances made this impossible. Due to failing health, Fr. Lauzon handed over the shepherd’s staff to Fr. A.L. Dufresne for a short time.
In 1920, Fr. Joseph Arthur Francois d’Assise Garneau, a native of St. Sita de Champlain, Canada, left St. Martinville as assistant Pastor to begin 34 years of strong, capable
leadership at St. Peter’s Church. With only four years of ordination behind him, Fr. Garneau set to work on a great deal of daring, successful projects. While many parishioners remember him as a gruff, cantankerous, and somewhat eccentric man who dressed in a worn cassock and rubber boots, Fr. Garneau was deeply serious about his priestly desire to serve, and actively gave of his own money, talents, time, physical and spiritual energy. His dreams were many and well-determined. Relentlessly, he planned and saved to realize each one. There was the dream of a much needed new church, and of course, the property for it, a better located rectory, a renovated cemetery, a school, and a debtless parish. By shrewd thinking, the fantastic cooperation and generosity of his parihoners, family, and himself, and a great deal of physical work (as well as begging around town for funds), he saw all these dreams brought to reality. In August of 1936, the new St. Peter Church, built in the Spanish mission style and hailed as one of the finest and most attractive in the Diocese of Lafayette, was dedicated by Bishop Jeanmard. Despite the financial setback caused by the flood of 1940 and a small church fire in 1945 (which occurred shortly after the church debt was paid), construction began on St. Philomena School. The school was his pride and joy. Again it was the ever-faithful parishioners of St. Peter’s who sacrificed and worked hours alongside Fr. Garneau which saw the completion of this fine school in 1955. Previous to this time, the religious education of the children was under the capable direction of the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist of the Third Order of St. Dominic.
Later, in recognition of Fr. Garneau’s labors, Bishop Jeanmard honored him with the title of Monsignor and honorary Canon of St. John’s Cathedral. Of course, this engendered no flaunting pride to such a simple, “ordinary” man with quite and “extraordinary” personality. He wished to serve up to the end. Even after his retirement in 1954, he continued to live in Gueydan for several more years and ministered at
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Chapel which he established. Msgr. Garneau died on March 22, 1970 at Prompt Succor Nurshing Home in Opelousas at the age of 90 and is buried in the Gueydan cemetery. Six fine priests worked with Msgr. Garneau as his assistants: Fr. Alexander Sigur (1946), Fr. Emery Labbe (1947), Fr. Paul Thibodeaux (1948), Fr. Wilton Labbe (1952), Fr. Bill Van Straaten (1953), and Fr. L.G. Dupuis (1953). Among Fr. Garneau’s accomplishments still enduring in the present is St. David’s Chapel in
Mulvey, formerly known as the Marceaux community. Begun in 1925 and built with lumber from the recently dismantled chapel in the Florence community, St. David’s sits on Meridian Line Road (La. Highway 1393), which also serves as the eastern boundary of St. Peter Parish, separating it from Holy Rosary Church in Kaplan. Some say it was placed there purposely as an act of defiance by Fr. Garneau after having a heated disagreement with the Pator of Holy Rosary over Mass stipends! Whatever the case, St. David’s Chapel provides a quaint place to worship in a quiet, rural setting which makes it perfect for its use by St. Peter’s and several other parishes and groups for retreats and days of recollection as well as its weekly Sunday morning Mass.
St. Peter’s new Pastor was now Fr. J. Wilson Matt, a native of Eunice, serving from 1954 to 1968. A garrulous man with a love for singing, he immediately faced the challenge of new leadership after many years under Msgr. Garneau. Adjustments were slow and hard on both sides, but well worth the struggle. During his time at St. Peter Church, he took care of the school debt, repaired and improved the church and rectory, and staffed the school with the Grey nuns of Cross of Ottawa, Canada. During his fourteen years, St. Peter’s saw as assistant Pastors Frs Oscar Chauvin (1954-58), Guido Nuernberger (1958), Stanley Begnaud (1958), Conley Bertrand (1959-1964), Lloyd P. Hebert (1964-1967), and Rex Broussard (1967-1970)
Father John Engbers, another native of Holland, arrived to assume the Pastorate of St. Peter Church on May 30, 1968, Fr. Matt having been assigned to Annunciation of the Blessed
Virgin Mary Church in Duralde. Fr. Engbers, an art and archeology enthusiast, quickly set out in service of all age groups. The school and rectory were repainted and greatly improved, a new mausoleum was built, the cemetery extended and in 1969, a completely new church was erected and dedicated. Fr. Rex Broussard was replaced as assistant Pastor by Father Francis Bourgeois (1971-1972). Deacon Herbert May served the parish from 1975-1975, prior to his ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. After nearly a decade as the Pastor of St. Peter’s, Fr. Engbers was succeed by Fr. Martin Leonards, a native of Rayne, March 23, 1977. Fr. Leonards, of a quiet and shy disposition, did much work with and through the parish council hiring and educating a parish Director of Religious Education (DRE) and Spiritual Life Director. During his tenure, the church debt was once again eliminated and the entire physical plant restored and maintained in excellent condition. The Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (Grey Nuns) were called to return to their provincial house in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1979; some of the nuns, Srs Claire Pellerin, Cathy Leroux, and Clairette Grondin, chose to remain in the area and formed a new community called the Sisters of Emmanuel. The sisters and DRE assisted developing several parish committees, sacramental preparation and adult education classes, prayer groups, youth and adult organizations, and a choir. For health reasons, Fr. Leonards departed St. Peter Church in 1988 and was located closer to Lafayette being assigned to St. Alphonsus Church in Maurice.
Fr. Grady Estilette, a native of New Iberia and great admirer of Napolean Bonaparte, was then assigned to St. Peter’s in October of 1988. He continued the physical upkeep of the church, rectory and school and moved the parish offices to the old convent. The former church building, which had been used as a school gym and parish hall since the building of the new church, was finally demolished in 1999. Fr. Estilette was also instrumental in acquiring three Sisters- Marianites of the Holy Cross- to teach in St. Peter School in 1989 and in providing a chapel for daily adoration of the Holy Eucharist which continues to the present. Fr. Estilette left St. Peter Church in 2002.
On February 14, 2003, Bishop Michael Jarrell assigned Fr. Mitchell Guidry, a seemingly reserved but theatrical native of Church Point, as Pastor. The parish council was reconvened, a building advisory committee was formed, and the parish’s outstanding debt was eliminated. Liturgical ministers were re-trained, new ministers recruited, a group of young sacristans was formed, statues and candles placed in church, the old large crucifix and the restored tabernacle from the old church were fixed in the center of the sanctuary; in all, an atmosphere of holiness, reverence and dignity of the Holy Mass was heightened. The parish offices were relocated to the rectory and an upstairs sitting room converted to a private prayer chapel. The Blessed Sacrament Adoration chapel was relocated to the side chapel of the church, handicapped parking and a ramp were added to the east side; the exterior of the church was washed and sealed and a new copper roof was installed. In late 2008, an extensive renovation of the interior of the church was begun. After months of work, it was completed in January of 2009. Because of his interest in planting seeds for the future of the Faith, new and updated CCD and religion textbooks were purchased, new Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation, First Confession, and First Communion preparations were in place, the adult class for converts (RCIA) was re-established, a summer program for children resumed, and periodic faith enrichment classes offered. Lenten and Advent missions and Penance services were also reintroduced. As part of the parish’s commitment to the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, a pro-life committee was formed. After six and a half years, Fr. Guidry left St. Peter’s in June of 2009.
On June 24, 2009, Fr. Jason Vidrine, a native of Ville Platte arrived in Gueydan as Pastor of St. Peter Church. He continued the great work of Fr. Guidry with zeal. A new parish council was elected in accordance with Diocesan policy. New liturgical ministers were recruited and the parish’s religious education program was reviewed. New religion books for CCD published by Ignatius Press (Faith and Life series) were implemented. In June of 2010, Sr. Ann Arno, MSC, Principal of St. Peter School, was reassigned by her community to Opelousas. A Principal search was conducted, and it was decided that Fr. Vidrine would assume responsibilities as Principal of St. Peter School in July of 2010. Repairs were done on the buildings of the school, and a new faculty was hired. After four and half years of serving the spiritual needs of the community of Gueydan as Pastor of St. Peter Church and Principal of St. Peter School, Fr. Vidrine was assigned as the Pastor of Sacred Heart Church in his hometown of Ville Platte, LA and departed St. Peter’s on November 1, 2013.
On November 1, 2013, the Solemnity of All Saints, Fr. Corey Campeaux, a native of Lafayette, began serving as Pastor of St. Peter Church.
St. David Chapel
St. David Chapel is a mission church of St. Peter parish. It was founded by long-time Pastor, Fr. Garneau in Mulvey, formerly known as the Marceaux community. Begun in 1925 and built with lumber from the recently dismantled chapel in the Florence community, St. David’s sits on Meridian Line Road (La. Highway 1393), which also serves as the eastern boundary of St. Peter Parish, separating it from Holy Rosary Church in Kaplan. St. David Chapel provides a quaint place to worship in a quiet, rural setting which makes it perfect for its use by St. Peter’s and several other parishes and groups for retreats and days of recollection as well as its weekly Sunday morning Mass at 8:30am.