Pastor: Fr. Mark Kramer, SJ
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, located in Grand Coteau, La., is the third oldest parish in the Diocese of Lafayette. St. Charles was established in 1819, and the Jesuits came to serve in Grand Coteau and the surrounding area in 1837 and have been in service to the parish ever since. In 2019, the parish community commemorated its bicentennial with a year’s worth of activities.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church also includes Christ the King Mission in nearby Bellevue, La., and is the center of a vibrant church community. The original mission church was built in 1937 under the administration of Fr. Father Godfrey Cook, SJ, and the Jesuits and parish staff of St. Charles Borromeo continue to provide sacramental ministry to Christ the King.
Throughout the years, the parish has served a diverse and vibrant community while bearing witness to more than 200 years of growth and evolution, including name changes and the construction of the current church, completed in 1880.
Bishop Louis William Dubourg founded the parish in 1819. The Jesuits arrived in 1837 when the bishop invited them to establish St. Charles College, Louisiana’s first school for boys, and staff the church.
Historically, St. Charles Borromeo was the “Mother Church” from which sprang parishes that ranging from small, rural churches to St. John the Evangelist, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Lafayette.
The cornerstone of the current church building was put into position and blessed on March 19, 1879. The primary builders were two Jesuit Brothers: Cornelius Otten and Joseph Armand Brinkhaus. The unique bell tower at the back of the church, built six years after the church was completed, is a rare structure in church architecture and is one of the most photographed sights of the area.
The parish has been known by more than one name in its history. The original name – St. Charles Borromeo – was changed to Sacred Heart Church when the new building was dedicated in 1880. The new name reflected the parishioners’ gratitude for the efforts and prayers of the Religious of the Sacred Heart during the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic that ravaged much of southern Louisiana but left the village of Grand Coteau untouched. The sisters were also instrumental in raising the money for the construction of the new church.
In 1931, African American congregants formed their own parish named for St. Peter Claver, and in 1938, Christ the King Mission was established to serve a farming community about six miles from Grand Coteau in Bellevue, La. The parishes and mission church reunited into one parish in 1971 under the original name of the 1819 church, St. Charles Borromeo. The former St. Peter Claver Church became St. Charles Chapel, where special Masses are celebrated, and which serves as the parish’s Religious Education Center.
A Special Place
St. Charles Borromeo Parish is part of a broader Jesuit presence in Grand Coteau. An elementary school opened in 1890, originally as the Sacred Heart Parochial School. Its name was changed to St. Ignatius School in 1956, in honor of the founder of the Jesuits. St. Charles College closed as a boys school in 1922 and was replaced by the Jesuit novitiate. Currently, the St. Charles College building houses the novitiate, a retreat center and a Jesuit community, including the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Pavilion for senior Jesuits. Another retreat center, Our Lady of the Oaks Jesuit Retreat House, lies just on the other side of the Jesuit cemetery from the church.
St. Charles Borromeo is a unique and beautiful place.