Our Sisters, the Marianites of Holy Cross
These treasured accounts would not have been recorded were it not for the wisdom of Marianite Sister Madeleine Sophie Hebert, born in Morgan City, Louisiana. Sister joined the order in 1930 and served as Superior General from 1964 to 1977. Most of these accounts were borrowed from an essay she composed titled "Always Cajun, Always Farmer, Always Catholic."
One can not begin to reflect on and appreciate the rich history of our Arnaudville Community without thanking God for blessing us with the wonderful Marianites of the Holy Cross. The impact of these religious pioneers spans two centuries and has touched the lives of thousands of people from our small town.
Their legacy in Arnaudville begin in 1890, when Father Charles Denoyel, born in 1845 in France, appealed to the provincial Superior in New Orleans, Mother Mary of St. Cesaria. That request resulted in the arrival of the first Marianites at Arnaudville's first parochial school. On December 28, 1891, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, two French Marianites arrived in Arnaudville. The first Superior was Sister Mary of St. Yves, Marie Francoise Le Bails, born at Etables, Cotes-du-Nord, France in 1862. The school was dedicated to St. Joseph and opened on January 4, 1892 with 25 boys and 24 girls.
The efforts of these sisters forged the spiritual foundation for the students of St. Joseph's School. Just as important was the influence these sisters had on the adult population of this poor self-sufficient pioneer community. Despite many accomplishments, tough times took its toll on St. Joseph's and its ability to survive. Farmers suffered crop failures and consequently finances became problematic. Survival through these times was tough, but the community pulled through with the spiritual help of these sisters. As their battle continued, the poor condition of the country, the devastation of crops from the boll weevil, natural disasters such as storms and floods, and the competition of free public schools resulted in the eventual closing of St. Joseph's School. The difficult decision was made and in 1919, the Marianites withdrew from Arnaudville and the doors of historic St. Joseph Convent closed. Efforts were made to direct the Catholic school with a young public school teacher, which arrangement lasted only a short time and the school was closed again.
Many years passed as several priests struggled to develop a strong spiritual well-being in Arnaudville's St. Francis Regis Parish. One priest, however, was instrumental in turning the tide and adding his own labors to those who had struggled before him. This was Father Massebiau, born in 1867 in the town of Veyreaux, Aveyron, In France. In addition to his efforts, this priest had a great devotion to "The Little Flower," St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1935, through the intercession of the Little Flower, many of the people of St. Francis Regis Parish began to feel a change. Scores of neglectful old farmers made their way back to Sunday services. The pastor knew that the head of the family had to give the example, and if the conversion of the parish was to be certain, deep and lasting, it must come from the father. It was this intention that Father Massebiau confided to the Little Flower. His prayers were not in vain. He revived church societies, established nocturnal adoration for men, spent many hours in the confessional, and administered Holy Communion to great numbers. The faith, dormant for a time, was revived and the good Acadian farmers were once again practicing member of Holy Mother Church. Now it was time for Father to turn his attendtion to the spiritual care of the children and youth of the Parish.
Many years passed as several priests struggled to develop a strong spiritual well-being in Arnaudville's St. Francis Regis Parish. One priest, however, was instrumental in turning the tide and adding his own labors to those who had struggled before him. This was Father Massebiau, born in 1867 in the town of Veyreaux, Aveyron, In France. In addition to his efforts, this priest had a great devotion to "The Little Flower," St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1935, through the intercession of the Little Flower, many of the people of St. Francis Regis Parish began to feel a change. Scores of neglectful old farmers made their way back to Sunday services. The pastor knew that the head of the family had to give the example, and if the conversion of the parish was to be certain, deep and lasting, it must come from the father. It was this intention that Father Massebiau confided to the Little Flower. His prayers were not in vain. He revived church societies, established nocturnal adoration for men, spent many hours in the confessional, and administered Holy Communion to great numbers. The faith, dormant for a time, was revived and the good Acadian farmers were once again practicing member of Holy Mother Church. Now it was time for Father to turn his attention to the spiritual care of the children and youth of the Parish.
In 1938, a newly ordained priest, Father Daniel Bernard, a native of Broussard, came to Arnaudville as the first parochial vicar. Daniel Bernard had served as an altar boy under Father Massebiau during the time he was stationed as the pastor in Broussard. He, too, plunged himself into the work of the parish, especially classes of instruction for prospective converts and catechism classes for the young people. Father Massebiau left Father Bernard in charge of the parish in the Summer of 1938. This proved to be a tremendous beneficial experience for the acting pastor and the parishioners. On his return to the parish, Father Massebiau continued his pastoral services with the assistance of Father Bernard.
In 1940, Arnaudville was again visited by setbacks. Floods ruined the crops resulting in many financial losses and World War II took many of the young men off to serve their country. Father Bernard kept these brave men informed of what was happening back home through a "Home News" Bulletin which he sent regularly to the boys "Over There." Then a few years later as age and illness took their toll on Father Massebiau, Father Bernard became administrator in January of 1943. Later that same year Msgr. Massebiau retired to Lafayette and Father Bernard was named pastor.
Still conscious of the need for a parochial school, Father Bernard began looking for a religious congregation to staff it. He turned to the Marianites, who had conducted the first St. Joseph School and to whom the good Acadian families had given a number of their daughters. The sisters still held a great affection for Arnaudville and its people and several Marianites had conducted Summer Catechetical Schools in the years 1942, 1944 and 1946. These visits paved the way in the minds of the people for the return of the sisters.
In 1946, with the assistance of the veterans back from the war, the pastor undertook a census of the parish and a survey to determine the will of his people in regard to the new school project. He had already raised sufficient funds to construct a building. The response was overwhelmingly favorable and with $5,800 in cash and 365 days of donated service as security, the Bishop gave his consent to the project. We note that the first construction was that of a convent for the sisters. This rose on the spot where the colored convent school had once stood. The foundation of the school building was laid in April 1947 and work progressed so quickly and so satisfactorily that by September of the same year, the doors opened to 160 students.
Now the story of the return of the Marianites to Arnaudville begins. The people had remained loyal to the congregation. A number of vocations had come from there and, even during the absence of the sisters from town, the relatives of those who had become Marianites often sent their daughters to other Marianite schools, particularly for secondary education. They enrolled in the high schools of Franklin, Opelousas, and New Orleans. Mother Provincial, Mother Mary Xavier Haggerty, encouraged the Superiors of these houses to take the girls from Arnaudville into their schools. She knew the depth of the faith of these Acadian descendants. She knew the religious fervor of the sisters from Arnaudville and she knew the town and St. Francis Regis Parish to be fertile soil from which generous souls could, and would, come to work in the vineyard of the Master as daughters of Father Basil Anthony Moreau, the founder of the order in Le Mans, France, 1841.
Father Bernard, who knew the zeal of Mother Xavier, also knew that the people of Arnaudville had long awaited the return of their dear sisters. Thus armed, he wrote asking to speak with Mother Provincial in person. Arriving at the provincial house, he was told that Mother was ill and in bed, so could not see him. Mother herself told the story, although it has never been written, that when Father Bernard arrived she could not refuse to see him because he had been such a persistent beggar. In her zeal to spread the kindgom through the teachings of the Marianites, Mother asked he nurse to allow Father to come to her bedside. This he did, and the story goes that, after many verbal requests, Father had recourse to tears and with his head on the side of Mother's bed, amid sobs, begged Mother Mary Xavier to hear his plea. How could she refuse? On the September day when the new school opened its doors, there were three sisters to welcome the students. Sister Isabelle (Rose Daigre), of Plaquemine, was the Superior and her two companions were Sister Alfred (Rita Hardy) and Sister Theophilus (Celine Noel), both natives of Arnaudville. After a 30 year absence, the Parish once again had their dear Marianites in its midst.
The Marianites continued to labor in the school of Little Flower supported by the love and respect of the people for another 33 years. By my counts, 29 Marianite Sisters served at the Saint Joseph School from 1892 to 1919 and 39 at Little Flower School from 1947 to 1980. It is important to note that 15 native daughters of Arnaudville answered the call and served as Marianites of the Holy Cross. Finally, as fate would have it, the last Marianite left Little Flower School in June 1980 and a few years later, Little Flower School closed its doors to its last classes in 1992.
We, the children and alumni of Little Flower School, will always be indebted to the sisters of the Marianite order for their unquestionable devotion and dedication they gave to God and his children of the small Acadian town of Arnaudville. We can only dream that history may one day repeat itself and that our children may once again be blessed wih the Marianites of Holy Cross.
Again, thank you Sister Madeleine Sophie Hebert for sharing these treasured accounts with us!
Pour Que Le Bon Dieu Vous Bénisse
Au Nom Du Père
Et Du Saint Esprit
Merci, Bon Dieu!
1st Grade Class
Little Flower School 1967