A Historical Perspective
Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church
According to the Archives at the Congregation of the Divine Providence in San Antonio, Texas, the earliest Catholic settlers of the Many area arrived in the late 1830’s. At this time, the nearest Catholic chapel was located some 20 miles away on Bayou Scie.
From 1865 to 1870, the Catholic community at Many was served by a mission priest, Father John Francis Le Vezuet, from Natchitoches. Because there was no church, the priest had to say mass in private homes. He made only 3 or 4 visits a year.
The history of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church of Many began in 1870 when the first resident priest, Rev. J. A. Aubree, arrived. By 1871, the diligent work of Father Aubree and his parishioners resulted in the completion of a frame church. Because Catholic education was a priority, Father Aubree started a school in the rectory around the year 1878 and taught the students himself. In 1880, Father Aubree supervised the construction of a small, wooden, one-room school. Lay teacher, Miss Emma Currie, later known as Mrs. Leo Vandegaer was hired.
Father Aubree died in 1897 and was buried in the Many Catholic Cemetery. His successor, Rev. Louis Lambertz, remained at Saint John the Baptist Church for only one year. In that short time, he contacted the Sisters of Divine Providence in San Antonio, Texas, about staffing a school in Many. Rev. A. Anseeuw, the third pastor of Saint John’s, reiterated Father Lambertz’s request to the sisters. With the assistance of the Natchitoches Bishop and Vicar General, he succeeded in obtaining two Sisters of Divine Providence to teach at the school. On September 1, 1898, the two sisters opened school with an enrollment of 19. By 1900, there were 65 students enrolled.
In 1911, during the tenure of Father Q. Vanderburg, a fire destroyed the school and the sisters’ residence. Through the combined efforts of the citizens of Many, Bishop Van de Ven, and the Catholic Knights of America, a residence for the sisters and a two-story building to house a grammar school and high school were constructed. In 1913, the school was chartered under the name of Saint John’s Academy.
Tragedy again struck the parish in 1922, when the original frame church burned. With the help of the Catholic Extension Society, a new church building was constructed. The architecture of the new church was early Spanish design in keeping with the tradition of the Franciscan Fathers who served Sabine parish as missionaries in the early seventeenth century. This early Spanish design has been retained to this date.
April of 1926 brought Father John A. Scritz to Saint John’s, but he left in June of the same year. He was replaced by Father John Nolan in August of 1926. He remained until 1929. Father Robert M. Maure was then appointed as pastor, and remained until 1933. Father M. L. Plauche was then appointed to serve Saint John’s and remained only two years.
During the administration of Rev. J. A. Benoit, who succeeded Father Plauche and became pastor of Saint John the Baptist in 1935, school enrollment continued to grow, eventually reaching 150 students. Additional teachers were requested from the Sisters of Divine Providence, but were not available, and the school closed in 1939. Father Benoit continued to appeal to the sisters, and in 1941, two teachers were obtained. The school reopened serving grades one through four.
After a tornado destroyed the combined school/sisters’ residence in 1945, usable lumber was salvaged to build a one-story school. At this time, Saint John the Baptist Parish took over full support and supervision of the school. Another school was built with a separate Convent for the sisters and completed before the next school year.
Father Benoit remained pastor until 195 1 and was succeeded by Father Richard Gremillion. He began plans for a new school building, new rectory, and church remodeling. He initiated the Annual Church Fair and began many moneymaking projects. He was able to build a new brick rectory in 1952 and completely renovate the church. Many of Father Gremillion’s dreams were realized until he was transferred in 1964.
Father William Kwaaitaal was then sent to Saint John’s as pastor. The new modem brick school was completed in 1966 and was dedicated by the most Rev. Bishop Charles P. Greco on October 16, 1966. Father Kwaaitaal remained in Many until 1968.
The next priest was Monsignor T. J. Lennon, who remained until 1974. It was during his administration that the school had to be closed due to the decreasing number of teaching sisters available. Although every avenue was pursued to keep the school open, it sadly closed in 1975.
Monsignor Lennon was followed by Father Bergeron who instituted the first Parish Council. He was succeeded by Father Kenneth Williams in 1984. Father Williams’s deep seated devotion to our Blessed Mother was expressed by his call for praying the rosary during the 1988 Marian year in which our parishioners prayed 50,000 plus rosaries, as well as the placing of a statue honoring Our Lady in front of the rectory.
Monsignor Norman Buvens was sent to us in 1991. He oversaw the remodeling of our church interior in 1992 and was succeeded by Father William Carey in 1995. Father Carey remained with us until 1998, when our current pastor, Father John Pardue was appointed to Saint John’s. During Father Pardue’s tenure, a renovation project to refurbish the old school facility was implemented. Father Pardue also fostered a devotion to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a growth in spirituality of the parishioners of Saint John’s.
PRIESTS OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST CATHOLIC CHURCH
Father J. A. Aubree 1870-1897
Father Louis Lambertz 1897-1898
Father A. Anseeuw 1898-1906
Father Q. Vanderburg 1906-1926
Father John Nolan 1926-1929
Father Robert Maure 1929-1933
Father M. L. Plauche 1933-1935
Father J. A. Benoit 1935-1951
Father Richard Gremillion 1951-1964
Father William Kwaaitaal 1964-1968
Monsignor T. J. Lennon 1968-1975
Father Gustave Bergeron 1975-1984
Father Kenneth A. Williams 1984-1991
Monsignor Norman Buvens 1991-1995
Father William Carey 1995-1998
Father John D. Pardue 1998-2005
Fr. Joseph A. Martina, Jr 2005-2014
Fr. Thomas Elavunkal, CMI 2014-2016
Fr. Michael Thang’wa, 2016-
FIRSTS FOR SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST CATHOLIC CHURCH
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