There are more than 100 churches of all faiths and denominations meeting in St. Landry Parish today, ranging from very small churches in quiet settings to larger churches with thousands of members.
The first Catholic church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in what is now St. Landry Parish was built at Washington in 1777. The second church was built in 1798 on the site of the present St. Landry Church in Opelousas. A third building was constructed on that site in 1828, and the present church was begun in 1908 and finished the next year.
When the congregation of St. Landry Catholic Church outgrew the 1828 church, parishioners asked that the new church occupy the site of the old building and that the material in the old building be used to build the new one. That request was granted, and the foundation of the present building was made from the bricks of the old church.
From the late 1750s until the first priest was appointed to Opelousas, the settlement was served by at least two itinerant priests. In 1765, Father Irénée, a Capuchin and pastor of the church at Pointe Coupée, visited southwest Louisiana irregularly. In 1766 and 1767, Father Archange, another Capuchin, was pastor of Pointe Coupée. He also visited the Opelousas area. Old records indicate that a Father Valentine was the first resident priest in Opelousas, having arrived in 1767.
According to William Henry Perrin’s account, the first Protestant minister in southwest Louisiana was Joseph Willis, who preached the first Protestant sermon in November 1804, in Vermilion Parish.
According to Perrin, “(Willis) remained but a short time on his first visit and preached only three or four sermons. His color, and being a Baptist, rendered him obnoxious, and exposed him to strong prejudices, and he was threatened with violence. He returned home after a brief visit, but he felt it his duty to come to the country he had visited and labor for the good of the people.
“He chose a location, returned to Mississippi, made his arrangements and the year following returned and located permanently in Louisiana, on Bayou Chicot, in the parish of St. Landry. Here, on the l3th of November, 1812, a church was constituted by him the first Baptist church in the State, and Rev. Mr. Willis became at the request of the church, its pastor.”
Opelousas also has other historic churches:
• Holy Ghost Church, established in 1920, is the largest African American church parish in the U.S. The present church building on Union Street was built in 1948.
• Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church on Lombard Street was founded in 1806. This is the first Protestant church in Opelousas, the first Methodist church in Louisiana and the oldest Methodist church west of the Mississippi River.
• The Little Zion Baptist Church on Academy Street was the first black Baptist church at Opelousas. It was organized in 1869.
• Mount Olive Baptist Church on Church Street sits at the site of the Black Academy of Mt. Olive, organized in 1897 as one of Opelousas earliest private schools for black students.
This article is copyrighted © by the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser and is used with permission. This website was originated through a grant awarded to Carencro High School (Joel Hilbun/Bobbi Marino, Grant Administrators) by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the Louisiana Quality Education Support Fund - 8(g).