First United Methodist Church of Houma
METHODISM ALONG THE BAYOU
by Timothy Hebert
METHODISM "RETURNS" TO TERREBONNE PARISH
Rev. Clyde Vernon Breithaupt: 1909-1916
Rev. C.V. Breithaupt arrived in Houma in February of 1909. He would spend the next seven and one half years building up the Methodist church in Terrebonne Parish.
Rev. Clyde Vernon Breithaupt was born on December 11, 1881 in Jena, Louisiana. He remembered as a youth back in 1892, how he walked barefoot through the swampy terrain ... this is the same type of land that he would later travel through in spreading the Gospel. Even though his family moved back to north Louisiana in 1896, he never forgot the Cajun environment. Before he entered the ministry, Rev. Breithaupt would have never even lived in a town without a Methodist church. Now it would be his job to bring a Methodist church into just such a town.
At the age of twenty-three, he married Margaretta Hundley on June 5, 1905. Shortly thereafter, he passed the Bar in Louisiana. He then acquired a degree in theology from Vandebilt University. Both degrees were attained through correspondence courses. The Breithaupts had five children, two of which were born while they were in Houma. After serving Houma, he was transferred to Alexandria to serve as state superintendent of Sunday Schools. As field secretary, he had to travel for most of the year. Since he felt he had to stay near his family, he accepted a position as a local pastor for a number of years at the Pineville Methodist Church. To make ends meet, he worked in his father-in-law's automobile dealerships. He sold Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, Hupmobile, and Essex automobiles. But Rev. Breithaupt was a preacher at heart, and not a businessman. He went bankrupt and had a nervous breakdown.
The Breithaupts moved to Phoenix, Arizona, because they thought its dry climate would be good for Rev. Breithaupt's health. He sold life insurance until his retirement in 1948. From 1926 until 1939, he taught a men's Bible class in the Central Methodist Church in Phoenix. He never lost his talent with the Word of God; they say the class seated two hundred and there was seldom an empty seat to be found.
After having a stroke around 1960, Rev. Breithaupt returned to Alexandria. He lived there with his nephew until he died on March 13, 1963.
Rev. Breithaupt wrote his first letter to the New Orleans Christian Advocate in March of 1909. He described the area to which he has been assigned. The population of Terrebonne Parish at this time was 38,000. Houma itself had 6,000 members, twice as many as six years ago. The parish was rich in natural resources ... chief among them being sugar cane, corn, oysters, oil, and cypress lumber. The numerous bayous are filled with hundreds of boats, big and small. A $43,000 high school was to open next year. Most of the parish approved a tax to go towards education. There were two Protestant churches in Houma. The Episcopal church had a membership of 155 and reaches 500 people throughout the parish. Their Sunday School had an enrollment of 200. The Presbyterian church had a membership of about 40 and a small Sunday School. There were eleven Roman Catholic churches and six priests in the parish. The only Methodist Church in the parish was the Bayou Blue Church, with 60 members.
Upon his arrival, Rev. Breithaupt held the first services at a private home one and a half miles from Houma. His "congregation" was made up of Catholics. He held his first service in the city of Houma on February 28. He rented the Hook and Ladder fireman's hall for the occasion. Several citizens had asked him to preach in locations around the parish. He tried to get to them as time permitted. Rev. Breithaupt noted that there are old men with grandchildren who have never heard the story of Jesus. He urged that a prime objective of the Louisiana Conference should be "More Men and More Money for French Mission."
In April of 1909, Rev. Breithaupt wrote to the Advocate and noted that the Methodist church would have to be established if they hoped to see the return of Methodists who had transferred to the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches in the absence of a Methodist church.
Rev. Breithaupt organized a Sunday School, an evening song service, and cottage prayer meetings. He was a gifted young man who attracted large crowds. Rev. Breithaupt was a friendly man; everyone liked him. He had an excellent singing voice.
As mentioned, one of the first places used as a "church" in Houma was the Hook and Ladder fireman's hall. For each service, he had to hire someone to move the fire-fighting equipment outside before the service and inside after the service. He had two dozen Methodist hymnals, bought with his own money. He also had his Bible. He had to spend $5 out of his own pocket for gasoline for the boat he used to get around the parish.
The Hook and Ladder Hall was built in 1888 on northeast corner of Church Street and Verret Street. It was named because of the miniature hook and ladder on the roof ... the tools of the firefighter's trade. The Hook and Ladder Hall was used for public school work on weekdays, dances on Saturdays, and church on Sundays.
The salary of a Methodist preacher at this time was not exactly overflowing. A small amount would be taken in from collections. But Houma was still a Mission church ... and would remain so for years to come. It would receive money donated fromother churches. Sometimes the preacher would receive donations of materials to help him. One gentlemen remembers eating supper at the Breithaupts. The meal was omelets, because that's all that they had ... someone had "paid" the preacher in eggs. In fact, many new preachers were welcomed with a "pounding". Members brought a pound of sugar, a pound of rice, and so on.
Rev. W. Winans Drake, in appealing for money for the Houma Mission, stated in a June 24, 1909 Advocate article states that reaching the French people of southern Louisiana is "one of the most important steps in the recent history of Louisiana Methodism."
Rev. Drake would write again in 1909 to emphasize the importance of bringing the Gospel to "our French neighbors." There were over a quarter of a million French-speaking citizens in south Louisiana. While they are Roman Catholic, they were not in practical touch with the Church and were without religious instruction. He noted that early efforts into this field by Rev. Martin Hebert showed great promise. Since more and more of the children were going to school and were learning English, more of the population could be reached. Churches needed to be started in towns like Houma and Thibodaux.
Dr. Nelson, of the Mission Board, visited the area around that time. With his help, a boat was purchased for Rev. Breithaupt to use to travel around the field. Rev. R.E. Martin was assisting him as a field missionary. Three men, Rev. Hebert, Rev. Breithaupt, and Rev. Martin, covered the entire French Mission field. Rev. Breithaupt concentrated his efforts on the eastern end of the French Mission; Rev. Hebert concentrated on the western end; Rev. Martin helped out in both areas. Sometimes the three worked together. A 1909 meeting in Henry was treated by the services of all three men.
Meetings were held around the parish wherever space could be found. Services were held at that time in a dance hall, a school, and private homes. The only church in the area was a "commodious" house of worship built by the congregation at Bayou Blue. A couple of young men in the area were even called to preach. The people were buying the colporter's Bibles at the rate of 200-300 copies a month. In a letter written to the Advocate, Rev. Hebert sent out an urgent call for help. He asked for prayers, $2000 for a church in Houma, and help in building churches at Montegut, Esther, and Kaplan. Rev. Breithaupt had received eighteen to twenty members into the congregation at Montegut, which is in Terrebonne Parish.
Terrebonne Parish suffered one of its worst hurricanes in September of 1909. Rev. Breithaupt wrote an article in the Advocate to inform everyone of the damage from the hurricane. Rev. Breithaupt had been around the parish in the boat recently bought for him. The stories from the southern part of the parish were horrific. He tells of one family riding the roof of their home as it was swept away. One by one, they watched as each oftheir five children slipped away into the waters. Another man was observed holding on to his wife by the cloth of her dress. Wave after wave passed over them. Looking down, the man saw that all he had hold of was a piece of cloth ... the dress had ripped and his wife was buried somewhere under the water. After the storm, people could be seen combing the parish ... looking for the remains of their loved ones. One man, who had been out of town, returned to find his wife and all of his children dead. He buried them with his own hands. About three hundred parish residents were killed, though none of our Methodist members perished in the storm.
Although the loss of life was not as great in the northern part of the parish, the property damage was great. Almost every building in the parish was damaged. Every one of the camps at Sea Breeze was blown away. The only Methodist church in the area, at Bayou Blue, was completely demolished. Using what is available from the old lumber, the church was soon rebuilt.
Rev. Breithaupt would travel around the area on his two cycle Harley Davidson motorcycle. Sometimes Mr. Johnny Foolkes (the brother of the woman who later sold the church some property) would drive Rev. Breithaupt around to his preaching locations when the weather was bad. He later got his own car, a Studebaker, though it was burnt in a fire in his garage. There were shell roads in town, but dirt roads elsewhere. He would travel to Bayou Blue (where there was a church building and a large congregation), down each of the bayous of Terrebonne Parish, and anywhere else that he could find a place to preach. For example, one of his preaching places was Palmer's Store, located near the present Catholic retreat, Lumen Christi, on Highway 311. He would preach out of the store itself. It was not unusual for Rev. Breithaupt to show up at one of these places all covered with mud.
The Houma charge of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South incorporated itself on November 12, 1909 for ninety-nine years. The witnesses included Clifford P. Smith, Robert H. Sanders, James W. Warren, Joseph L. Melancon, Joseph H. Pullen, George J. Gueno, E.A. Smith, J.A. Robichaux, and C.V. Breithaupt.
The same day, the church purchased four lots (lots 1, 2, and 3 on block 59) from Joseph H. Pullen for $650 cash. They were on the southeast corner of High St. and Gabasse St. Mr. Pullen had just bought the property from Emile Daigle in September. Other names mentioned on the documentation were Clifford P. Smith (president), Joseph A. Robichaux, Robert B. Butler, and C.V. Breithaupt. By the end of the year, they had also raised $200 towards the building of a church.
No mention was ever made of an attempt to build a church on the property. It was used only as a parsonage. A triangular piece of lot 3 was sold to Ellis Dupre in 1915. In 1921, lots 1, 2, and 3 were sold to Alfred J. Hebert. The three lots were sold to raise money to pay for the Red Brick Church that was being built. The house on the east side of the property (lot 4; 814 High St.) was used as a parsonage for over 40 years. This was Terrebonne Parish's first Methodist parsonage. It was sold in 1953.
The men mentioned in the 1909 purchase were prominent members of the community as well as the church. Mr. Clifford P. Smith had come to Houma and started a cypress lumber business. He was an important member of Rev. Breithaupt's church. He was also a prominent member of the community for years. He served as foreman for the Hook and Ladder Fire Company for a while. His daughter, Helen, would later have the pulpit in the new church built in 1956 put in memory of her parents.
Joseph H. Pullen withdrew from the Episcopal Church this year to join the Methodist Church. In his letter of withdrawal, he notes that when he came to Houma in 1894 there was no Methodist Church in town. Like several other Methodists who had come to Houma, he had been attending another Protestant church. His family later moved to northern Louisiana.
Robert B. Butler came to Houma in 1898 after passing the bar exam. He practiced law in Terrebonne Parish for fifty-eight years. He served as a representative and as a senator in Baton Rouge. He was a judge for eighteen years. He even ran for lieutenant governor at one time. Judge Butler was also known as a pioneer for the Boy Scouts in the area. He was never without his cigar, except when he was on the bench. Besides serving in a number of civic organizations, he also taught the men's Sunday School class at the Methodist Church for years. He passed away in 1965 at age ninety-five.
The 1909 Conference held in December notes that C.V. Breithaupt and F.J. McCoy ... traveling preachers ... were elected deacons. The Houma charge had grown to 91 members. The Sunday School had 76 members. It also says that Rev. Breithaupt was assisted by two local preachers and that he had four societies on the charge. Seven infants were baptized this past year.
Rev. R.E. Martin was the junior preacher assigned to help Rev. Breithaupt at the Houma Mission for 1911. He was working out of Bayou Blue. The Houma Mission now had 130 members. By the end of the year, it had 152 members. They had rebuilt the church at Bayou Blue. There were 9 Sunday Schools in the Mission with 250 members. The Mission Board gave Houma $1000 for 1911. The first women's group, the Women's Home Mission Society, was formed this year with 18 members. The Mission Board was still supporting the Houma Mission.
Moving the fire-fighting equipment in and out of the Hook and Ladder Hall became bothersome. So Rev. Breithaupt rented a room on Main Street. It is known that the Opera House was sometimes used. The Opera House was a two storied building with a six-sided tower on the southeast corner. It was built in 1896 by the volunteer fire department. They stored fire fighting equipment downstairs. There was a bell in the tower to ring in case of fire. The post office was also located downstairs. Speeches, stage shows, and dramas were presented on stage. It served as a movie house for early silent movies. Someone, such as Mrs. Daisy Ray, would play the piano during the movies. The Opera House was torn down in 1933 to build a post office. A restaurant occupies the old post office today.
Rev. Walter G. Harbin came to Houma to preach for two weeks in March. One of his services, for men only, was held at the Opera House with an attendance of between 250 and 300 men. Considering there are only about 60 Protestant men in this entire city of 6,000, the turnout was impressive. Rev. Harbin preached on "A Man Wanted." There were eleven accessions at this meeting alone. Everyone in town knows that the same hall where we hold our services is a good place to find spiritual joy as well as earthly pleasure.
Still, using the Opera House meant sharing the room with other functions. So, Rev. Breithaupt rented a room elsewhere on Main Street. It was on the third floor in a building that now holds a business called Palais Royale. This third floor has since burned down. There was a large room in which the services were conducted. People sat on benches. Rev. Breithaupt kept his gym equipment ... weights, parallel bars, etc. ... on the same floor. He would invite the boys to work out with him. But, he wouldn't preach to them at these exercise sessions. Still, the priest got upset with the Catholic boys for mingling with that "Protestant" preacher. When the church later moved to the Masson house, the gym equipment was set up there.
Getting these people to switch from Catholicism to Methodism is not as simple as switching between two Protestant religions. The Catholic religion has been with these people since they came to this country. It is a part of their culture. Still, Rev. Breithaupt said that you don't build up Methodism by cutting down Catholicism. Rev. Breithaupt noted that the Methodists' job was to "preach the simple story of Jesus and his love, the awfulness of sin, the power of God to save; you do not have to spend your time condemning Romanism ... preach Jesus, the Lord will do the rest."
Rev. Breithaupt wrote to the Advocate in 1911 about the lack of education in the pulpit. He felt that since people were becoming more educated, an uneducated preacher was doing them a disservice. He felt that some of the congregation could feed him spiritually.
Rev. Hebert went down to the Bayou Blue church to help Rev. R.E. Martin with a four day meeting in March. Ten people joined the church and the "entire congregation was greatly revived." Three of the families had traveled forty miles by water to hear the gospel. Rev. Martin noted at the time that he needs some sort of transportation to travel the great distances along thecircuit. His salary is so small that he cannot even afford to buy a pony.
Houma's first deaconess, Miss Eliza Iles, was sent to work in Houma and surrounding areas in 1912. She often assisted Rev. A.D. Martin in his rounds. The role of the deaconess was to organize clubs and classes and to do the house-to-house visiting. They were able to reach many people that the pastor could not get to. Miss Iles was an attractive woman with a pleasant, outgoing personality. She served the area until 1915, when she was replaced by Miss Kate Walker. Miss Iles later became a missionary to Africa.
The official position of deaconess had been established at the end of the 19th century. To be a deaconess, a woman had to complete the proper training and be certified by the Woman's Board of Home Missions. At the turn of the century, the salary of a deaconess was $10 a month plus board, travelling expenses, and car fare. She would receive a one month vacation each year. The official "uniform" for a deaconess consisted of a black dress, a bonnet with white lawn ties, and a white turnover collar and cuffs. It was necessary for the deaconess to pursue a continuous course of study and reading.
By the end of 1912, Rev. Breithaupt had received 55 new members since the last conference. When he went to Bayou Blue (where Anatole Martin and Rev. R.E. Martin had been working) in October, he received 14 new members there and 3 more nearby. At the beginning of November, Rev. Booth came by to help with a meeting in Houma. Rev. Breithaupt noted that almost all of the new converts were formerly Catholic.
At the December conference, the Mission Board allocated $500 for the Houma Mission for the next year. The records show three churches in the Houma Mission charge. The seven Sunday Schools now have 375 members and 21 teachers. The Woman's Home Society had 22 members. The first youth groups were formed in 1912. The Senior Epworth League had 13 members, and the Junior Epworth League had 9 members.
The Sunday schedule at this time consisted of Sunday School at 10 a.m. and Preaching Service at 11 a.m.
A meeting was held in April 1913 that lasted for two weeks. The services were conducted by Rev. Breithaupt, though Rev. Hebert came down to preach for six of the days. On a typical night, Rev. Breithaupt said, seven people joined the church.
The progress in the French Mission field was not going unnoticed. In 1914, Martin Hebert and C.V. Breithaupt were commended for their labors ... Hebert for his work as a French missionary and Breithaupt for completing six years as pastor of the church in Houma. After visiting the area, Dr. E.H. Rawlings (Education Secretary for the General Board) wrote "In our whole church, there seems to me no work more important or more promising than the work being done in the Houma Mission." Mrs.R.W. MacDonell, in a letter to Rev. Breithaupt, wrote of the Houma Mission ... "you have a wonderful record."
It has been mentioned that you had to give up dancing and drinking to become a Methodist. The workers in Houma decided that they needed some sort of social activity. In January of 1914, the Bayou Blue church had its first Epworth League social. It was held at a Mr. Brunet's house. Fifty young people were in attendance. The social started off with singing hymns. Then they enjoyed several games, such as a needle threading and sewing contest and mock fortune-telling. Popcorn pralines were served for the snack. Miss Eliza Iles told the story of Ruth. The evening ended with more singing of hymns, this time in French.
On July 22, 1914, the church bought a piece of property (80' by 100') on the southeast corner of Goode St. and School St. from Mrs. C.J. Masson (Albina Foolkes) for $2800. They paid $10 cash and the rest, $500 per year, at 8% interest. The witnesses included Clifford P. Smith, Joseph H. Pullen, and Robert B. Butler. Mrs. Masson had purchased this lot from Elizagone Duplantis in 1906, who had purchased it from Miss Marie Boudreaux in 1900, who had purchased it from Mrs. Marie Barnardo in 1891, who had purchased it in 1868 from the widow of Sidney M. Goode.
The house on the property was used as a church for the next seven years. Evidently it was painted green, because it was known as the "Little Green Church." It was also known as the "Tabernacle." The front porch was enclosed for more room and was used for Sunday School classes. Rooms in the back of the house were used for offices and a kitchen. It seems as though the Methodists always needed a kitchen.
Rev. Breithaupt wrote to the Advocate to impress the need of the Houma Mission. He also thanked the Women's Board for providing a parsonage. Assisting Rev. Breithaupt were five exhorters and a local preacher. They are raising $100 from the field. But this still wasn't enough. He notes how one of his helpers had to sell his own cow to pay off $35 of the church's debt. He made an appeal for $500 so that Rev. A.D. Martin could preach full time.
Rev. Breithaupt stated that the best revival Houma ever had took place in April of 1915. Rev. A.F. Vaughan of Franklin, La. assisted in the services. There were nineteen accessions, a number of reclamations, and a spiritual quickening of the church. After the meeting was over, Rev. Breithaupt was joined by Rev. Louis Hoffpauir for two weeks of preaching in the field. Rev. Hebert also came down for a few days in April.
Rev. R.E. Martin mentioned later in 1915 that he had received seventeen new members into the church at Bayou Blue. He also reminded everyone of the problems of a local pastor. He had to farm for six days out of the week to provide for his family. Then on Sundays, he had to provide for everyone else spiritually. The poor crops of the last three years had hurt both his and thechurch's finances.
The presiding elder of the Lafayette District, J.J. Hoffpauir, stated that the French Mission, under the leadership of Rev. Hebert and Rev. Breithaupt, was developing more rapidly than at any time in its history.
A storm at the end of September destroyed the only Methodist church in the area, at Bayou Blue. This was the building that had been blown down in 1909, but was rebuilt. It was worth about $600. Rev. Anatole Martin and Rev. Robert Martin were in a meeting nine miles below Lockport when the storm hit. No one was hurt. There were twenty to thirty members in that area. All twenty-five members of the church in Fayport lost their homes. The twenty-six members in the Raceland area fared better, though the wind did a lot of damage. Although loss of life was small, the property damage was immense.
Rev. Anatole Martin received six members into the church at Fayport on Sept. 16, 1915. Fayport was a community located between Bayou Blue and Lockport.
As of October 4, Rev. Breithaupt and Rev. A.D. Martin had received seventy people into the church.
Rev. Breithaupt wrote about the area at this time. "There are more than 330 people living on every inhabitable square mile of dirt in this territory, and when you look into the faces of 100,000 white people, you have seen 99,000 who are claimed by Romanism. The bayou stretches out for eighty miles with one front yard touching the other, the entire distance broken by only two plantations on the right descending bank of Lafourche. And the Southern Methodist Church is the only Protestant Church now operating in the immediate locality."
At the November 1915 Louisiana conference, Rev. C.V. Breithaupt received his last appointment to the Houma Mission. Rev. A.D. Martin was appointed to the Lafourche mission for the third year. Rev. C. Fulton Starnes was appointed to assist Rev. Martin as a local preacher. He came to south Louisiana from North Carolina. The journal stated that there was only one church in the charge. One other church (at Bayou Blue) had been destroyed that year.
In one of his last letters before he left Houma, Rev. Breithaupt mentions that the revivals over the past seven years (assisted by the likes of Rev. Vaughan, A.W. Turner, Walter Harbin, Martin Hebert, and J.G. Snelling) have touched more hearts than any he has ever seen. People who would have never darkened the doors of a church were now attending services.
So why would Rev. Breithaupt, so successful in the French Mission, leave Houma in 1916 before the appointment year was up? It seems as though his mother-in-law in Alexandria had developed a brain tumor. His father-in-law asked Margaretta to return home. That is why Rev. Breithaupt asked to leave Houma and beplaced in Alexandria.
A meeting of the Sunday School Board on Tuesday, April 4, 1916 was held to replace Rev. Coleman, who had been appointed to pastor a church in Alexandria. Bishop Atkins was asked to appoint Rev. C.V. Breithaupt to immediately fill the position of Sunday School Field Secretary. Rev. Breithaupt accepted the position and moved to Alexandria.
Deaconess Kate Walker, who had replaced Miss Iles in 1915, was still serving as a pastor's assistant when Rev. Breithaupt left. Rev. Martin Hebert was appointed to fill in the remainder of Rev. Breithaupt's term. Since he lived so far away, Miss Walker handled things at the Houma church when Rev. Hebert couldn't make it to town. In the Woman's Missionary Council's 1917 report, Miss Walker noted that a reconstruction of the French work in the area was necessary. The funds for the French work in Houma for 1916 came from the Woman's Missionary Council ($600) and the Louisiana Conference ($320). Miss Walker noted that Rev. Breithaupt would be missed, for they had really depended on his leadership. There were a few volunteers from the Missionary Society, but they never stayed very long.
In a letter written in 1917, Miss Walker lamented over the work needed to be done. She noted that the Catholics had been taught from infancy to avoid other Churches as they would sin. The people would not come to the Methodists ... so "we must go to them." Many homes opened themselves up to a visit from the deaconess, but would turn away a minister.
Mrs. Walker herself left the area in 1917, due to ill health, and was replaced by Miss Hooper and Mrs. White.
In May, 1916, Rev. A.D. Martin, writing from Raceland, tells the Advocate that he now had six preaching places. He was joined recently by Rev. E.V. Duplantis, a colporter. Another preacher had visited with him a couple of weeks before. In both cases, they tried to conduct services in English and were met with contempt. He emphasized the need for pastors who spoke their (French) language. He had ten accessions of former Catholics this year. He noted the need for these people to find the way of salvation. The first step was to get French Bibles in their hands, followed by someone to help them understand it.
Later that summer, Rev. Martin wrote again to inform the Advocate that Rev. Martin Hebert had held a revival at Raceland Prairie. There were seven accessions. Rev. Hebert was a great asset, since he could preach in both French and English. It was said that he preached "great sermons, accompanied with the power of the Holy Spirit."
Rev. G.A. Morgan: 1916-1917
At the November 1916, Louisiana Conference, Rev. G.A. Morgan was appointed to Houma. The Lafourche Mission was left to be supplied by A.D. Martin.
Rev. Morgan was born in Indian Bayou on August 28, 1888. He married Edith Hoffpauir in 1902 and had two sons. He joined the Louisiana Conference in 1903. He spent the greatest amount of time serving the Jonesboro charge. He only spent one year in Houma. This was possible due to his health; he had an asthmatic condition. But he never lost his smile or his gentle, unselfish nature. It was said that people saw the "image of Christ" reflected in his life. He had a quiet, but forceful personality. His sermons were strong and scholarly. He passed away on June 21, 1959.
In May, 1917, Rev. Morgan wrote to the Advocate to update everyone on the Houma mission. An Easter revival, lasting two weeks, had just been completed. Rev. H. Wade Cudd of Baton Rouge preached two sermons a day for ten days. Rev. Hebert also came to preach three sermons. Rev. Morgan himself preached five times. Though there was a small number of accessions and conversions, the spiritual life of the church was renewed. Rev. Morgan noted the similarity of this field to a foreign mission field. The people spoke a different language, had many superstitions, lacked education, and were pressured by another religion (Catholicism). Still, the Methodist church was making progress.
There were now seventy members within reach of the church. The Sunday School, under the leadership of Dr. J.W. Warren, was growing. The Wesley Bible Class had twenty members and was also growing. Houma had an active Women's Missionary Society with sixteen members. The women paid their tithes and were quite willing to lead in public prayer. A Senior Epworth League in May.
The Houma charge had recently held its first quarterly meeting under presiding elder, Rev. H.W. May. It was noted that the greatest need for the Houma congregation was a good church building. They had been using the old Masson home as a church, but they were trying to raise funds for a new building.
The year 1917 brought an important person back to Terrebonne Parish. If we may, let's look at the history of Ella Hooper and the MacDonell School.
WESLEY HOUSE and MacDONELL FRENCH MISSION SCHOOL
Before we look at the MacDonell School, let's take a minute to look at the role of Woman's Societies and their influence on the Terrebonne area ... since they were instrumental in the development of MacDonell. The Woman's Home Mission Society was formed in 1879. It sought to reach the home mission fields that may have been overlooked in lieu of the foreign field. It helped to open several training schools for women. The official position of deaconess was established.
The major goal of the Society, as stated in the 1890's, was to educate the poor and unchurched. In 1910, the Woman's Board of Home Missions and the Woman's Board of Foreign Missions joined to form the Woman's Missionary Council.
It was the Woman's Board of Home Missions that sent the first two deaconesses, Miss Iles and Miss Walker, to Houma. Their concern for the home mission field in Louisiana also led them to send Miss Ella Hooper and Mrs. Laura White to Houma. Under their leadership and support, the MacDonell French Mission School was formed.
Miss Ella Keener Hooper was born on January 1, 1886 in Livonia, Louisiana. Due to the lack of a school or church and the frequent flooding, her family moved to Rosedale, Louisiana in 1893. Her grandfather was Rev. Samuel Hawes, who had pastored the Thibodaux church in the 1850's and had preached in Terrebonne Parish on occasion.
Since Rosedale only had a one-room school, most of Miss Hooper's elementary education was by home study. At the age of sixteen, she enrolled at the Louisiana State Normal School. When she graduated in 1905, she received her teaching certificate and taught at the local school for two years. But Miss Hooper's heart was set on mission work. She entered the Scarritt College and Training School in Kansas City, Missouri in 1908. Her friend and relative, Mrs. Christian Keener, aided her financially and encouraged her in her quest. After only one year at Scarritt, Miss Hooper had to drop out due to ill health.
She had always dreamed of traveling to Africa or some other foreign land to work as a missionary, but she was rejected because of her poor eyesight and fragile nature. So, she applied for a job with the Louisiana state school superintendent. She told him, "I want to go to the place where the people are the poorest and most illiterate, where I can teach them from the books and where I can talk to them about their souls." He sent her to a school among the French people of Bayou Blue.
Miss Hooper stayed with a local family when she first arrived in Houma. When the lady of the house met Miss Hooper, the first thing she asked was "What church do you belong to?" Miss Hooper answered, "I am a Southern Methodist." The Frenchwoman said, "Thank God for that; I was afraid you would be a Protestant." The two women grew to be great friends, for she was to become Miss Hooper's interpreter on her trips down the bayou. The interpreter was a matronly woman who had "a smile that angels must wear."
She became very interested in the French and Indian people of south Louisiana. She realized that the people were in need of a Christian industrial school. With the permission of the parents, she began reading stories from the Bible on Sundays and established the first Sunday Bible school groups in the area.
After teaching in Terrebonne Parish for three years, she left the area and returned to her hometown of Rosedale for several years to regain her health. She then went to study at the University of Chicago. Upon completion of courses at the university, she again applied to Mrs. R.W. MacDonell of the Mission Board for a position where she could teach poor children. She was willing to work for no pay. Mrs. MacDonell sent her to Georgia, where Miss Hooper worked at Vashti School for Girls for a while. She was then transferred to the Martha Berry School in the mountains near Rome, Georgia, for a year. Miss Hooper was such a fine teacher that they insisted on paying her a salary. It is at this mountain school that she met and befriended Laura White, who was working as a secretary at the school.
It was 1917; Ella Hooper had not seen Terrebonne for five years, but she had not forgotten the French and Indian children of south Louisiana. She shared her dream, of returning to Louisiana and starting a mission school of her own, with Mrs. White. Mrs. White said, "Wherever you go, I want to go with you."
"Are you in earnest about that?" Miss Hooper asked.
"I am" said Mrs. White.
"Then come to my room and we will talk to God about it."
They went to her room, got down on their knees, and prayed that God would help them fulfill their dream. After they finished praying, Miss Hooper wrote a letter to Mrs. MacDonell asking to be assigned to south Louisiana.
Their prayers were answered two days later. Miss Walker, the deaconess assigned to Houma, had just resigned due to ill health. They were invited to take her place. They were instructed to "look over the entire field and plan the work most needed." Since in appeared that a school was not necessary, they modified their original dream ... for now.
Tochie MacDonell was the general secretary of the Woman's Council at this time. Mrs. MacDonell, a Georgian born into a prominent family, was married to a Methodist minister. She had accompanied him as a missionary to Mexico years earlier. She felt a special burden to address the home mission field. Mrs. MacDonell was connected with the Mission Board for over twenty-five years. She defined the scope and aim of the Woman's Home Mission Society as "serving humanity, building character, and saving souls." Mrs. MacDonell believed that the Woman's Home Mission Society was an "expression of the Church of that faith in religion as a social force which makes possible the accomplishment of the ideal community where men are truly neighbors and love each other as themselves."
The two women arrived in Houma in September of 1917. They found four churches in the area. Miss Hooper and Mrs. White decided on Houma as the center of operations for the French work because of its central location. In October, they rented a small house on High St. across from the Methodist parsonage. The first two girls were Lucide and Maggie Martin, daughters of Rev. A.D. Martin. They were soon joined by Anaize Martin and Elizabeth Thompson. One of these girls, Mrs. Maggie Martin Bergeron, later lived and taught at the school for a number of years. After only a couple of months at their new home, they had received over 100 guests.
Miss Hooper was tall and frail. She was highly educated and "full of zeal ... with bright, burning eyes." She was a strict lady with a commanding presence who always wore a hat and eyeglasses. Mrs. White, a widow, was quite different. She was a patient woman with a larger frame. She loved to teach the Bible ... whether it be to a group of children in a house in Lockport or to a group of French women at the Houma church on Sunday afternoons. Their salary was $45 a month each, most of which they put back into their ministry.
They set about their work of conducting Sunday school classes, clubs, missionary societies, and other inspirational meetings among the women and children. Since the meeting places were scattered about Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, the women arranged to obtain a Ford automobile before the end of the year. As the 1918 Council Journal stated, "a great door is open in this section of the country."
With the addition of a car, the rural ministry of Wesley House began. It usually left the school on Sunday mornings loaded with packages of clothing from Missionary Societies from Louisiana and other states. The clothes were sold very cheaply or given away. She also brought books, magazines, pictures for children, candy, emergency supplies, and the class materials for lessons. Often guests (especially an interpreter) would accompany the ladies. If not, someone was usually picked up on the way and given a ride. The first stop would be at Bayou Blue. After morning services, an hour of fellowship, and lunch, they would head down the bayou fifteen miles to the next stop. After the second meeting, they would head back to Houma in time for the Epworth League meeting and the evening worship service.
On Mondays, Mrs. White would teach Bible classes. On Thursdays and Fridays, the women would travel to missionary auxiliary meetings, Americanization classes, and friendly visits around the area.
In the summers, they would stay out in the field for two weeks at a time. They would hold Bible meetings, cottage prayer meetings, social meetings, and missionary meetings. They would also engage itinerating evangelistic tours lasting three days.
Miss Hooper would hold Bible lessons and teach the children to read and write. For those that couldn't read, she held up pictures. She tried to teach them new hymns in English. After a while, they could sing them, but they didn't really know what they were singing until they learned English. If she was visiting people who only spoke French, she might bring an interpreter with her. She organized Sunday Schools up and down the bayous, as places such as Cedar Grove, Dulac, Point au Chien, and Lockport. She also conducted Woman's Society of Christian Service classes at Dulac, Point aux Chien, Bayou Blue, Labadieville, Raceland, and Lockport ... where she taught Bible study, dietary, and nursing skills.
August was the month for "institutes." Boys could attend an institute in the summer where they would learn about agricultural and industrial matters. They often took field trips to area businesses. The purpose of the institute was to teach the boys the fundamentals of physical, intellectual, spiritual, and social development. Girls also had institutes, often called House Parties. Six to ten girls were invited to the house to learn sewing, cooking, and other homemaking skills. The week also included singing lessons and Bible study. The following article was written by a MacDonell visitor, Miss Caroline Hess, in August of 1922.
Did you ever attend a House Party? A real house party, for a whole week when everything was done for the pleasure of you and your friends? If you have, you may be able to appreciate how happy the thirty-two little girls who attended the Wesley House Party at Houma, La., were during the week of June 25-July 1.
Early in the spring Miss Hooper invited me to be present. I went with her on June 25 to Sunday school at Point aux Chene. This in itself was an interesting experience, but not to be compared with the interest which began there and which continued through the week.
After Sunday school the girls began to climb into the Missionary Ford." Seldom has a Ford been privileged to carry a happier party --- four grown-ups, eight little girls, and seven suitcases. Need I say that many people turned to watch as we passed by? The Ford seemed to be as happy as any member of the party, however, and, singing its little song, brought us to the Wesley House, with its great yard, shaded by beautiful oaks hung with moss. In the back yard the big tent was all ready for us with its beds covered with white bars.
Although the party was to begin on Monday night, we had twenty girls Sunday night. Not one minute of the time were they willing to miss. Monday we had only a few classes, giving the children time to get acquainted and to play. On Tuesday morning work began in earnest. At 6 a.m. the rising bell started the day. Breakfast was at 7, and at 8 we had our morning prayer service. At 8:30 the girls assembled on the front porch for a half hour of Bible Stories. The themes for the four days were "God's Good Gifts," "God's Protecting Care," "God's Helpers," and "Heroes." From nine to ten pictures illustrating that morning's theme were chosen and pasted on a double fold of paper. These folds were made into a scrap book on the last day.
From 10 to 10:15 was lunch hour and the ice cream, cake, or candy was enjoyed by all. At 10:15 we had our music lesson. At 11 we studied or practiced for the entertainment which was given in the church on Friday night. From 1:30 to 3 was spent in sewing class and after that came an hour of directed play. At 4 each girl was sent to her cot for 15 minutes of quiet and then all were allowed to dress for the evening. At 8 we sang songs, closing with our good-night prayer at 8:30.
So the days of the House Party were spent. But what would a House Party be without "three meals a day." Mrs. White, assisted by Millie, saw that this part of the day's program was successfully carried out. Never once did the girls hesitate to "Take a Stand," and great was their delight when Millie led "When the Saints go Marching Home" and other songs sung only as a fine old negro mammy can sing them.
Aside from the regular work, every girl knew the Twenty-third Psalm before the week was over. About one-third of them had learned the 100th Psalm. Nine knew the first twelve verses of John 14. They also learned five memory texts, between eight and twelve songs and memorized two little missionary plays for their entertainment. Each girl made a handkerchief in sewing class and some did other sewing.
These girls, many of them, have had none or very little schooling. Many of them never hear a word of English in their homes. To watch them as they associated with the other children, as they comprehended and then accomplished the task given them, made you think of the opening of a beautiful flower when the warm morning ray of the sun touched it and brought it into its beauty.
I wish that the wonderful work which Miss Hooper and her helpers are doing might be seen by many and known by all of our people. Surely the poet meant such work as here when he said, "Who gives himself with his alms feeds three: himself, his hungering neighbor, and me."
The student preachers at MacDonell in those first years included E.V. Duplantis, James A. Knight, and Edgar Dufrene.
By the end of 1918, the ladies were still hard at work. Besides the Sunday school classes, they were holding Bible classes, a family class, a four day institute, and a teacher training class for Bible memory. At the beginning of the year, very few people owned Bibles. Over the past twelve months, over two dozen Bibles had been distributed by the ladies. Of course, less than five percent of the adults in the rural areas can read or write (in French or in English).
They found the public school doing an adequate job, as they had been told. But, they were very overcrowded; and they didn't touch the religious needs of the people.
On March 21, 1918, a meeting was held at the "Methodist Mission Hall," as the newspaper called it, to discuss the possibility of opening a Christian Industrial School for Girls in Houma. Representatives of the three Protestant religions, including the pastors, were at the meeting. All were in agreement that such a school would be a good idea.
Miss Hooper and Mrs. White had long admired the Gagne house on East Main Street. It was built (probably by the Dunn family) and inherited by Sarah Dunn Gagne. They thought it would be an ideal place to have a school. Miss Hooper once remarked to Mrs. White, "That is an ideal place for our school. Let us ask God to help us get it." When they found out one day in 1919 that it was for sale, they wrote to Mrs. MacDonell to see if the Board could buy it. The money wasn't readily available, and someone else bought it. But, after only four days, the new owner (Mr. Adam Boquet) and his family packed up their belongings and headed back to his farm. It is said that they were haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Sarah Gagne. The property was for sale again. When Mr. Desire Bergeron stayed in the house later, he found out that the strange noises were caused by squirrels dropping pecans down the gutters. It is said that God works in mysterious ways ... I guess he sometimes even uses squirrels.
A $10,000 gift from Centenary was given to the French work. Mrs. J.H. McCoy, Administrative Secretary of the Eastern Division of the Women's Missionary Council, purchased the land (eighteen acres) with one house (the Gagne home) on the property. It is said that when Mrs. Sarah Gagne, lived in the home years before, she hoped that her home would go to the church to be used for the education of poor children. Her great-grandson noted that she had been a devout Methodist. She left many books on religion among her effects. An oak tree on the property was named after her by Miss Hooper.
Years later, Mrs. Gagne's dream finally came true. The home was now called Wesley House. Wesley Houses were homes sponsored by the Methodist Church that took in young girls and helped to raise them in a Christian manner.
Rev. A.D. Martin moved the furniture from the rented house on High St. to the new location with a wagon and two mules. There were five girls living at the home at this time. George LaGrange, his wife, and child also lived at the home while he prepared for work in the church.
Miss Hooper and Mrs. White wrote to the New Orleans Christian Advocate to inform everyone that the Wesley House in Houma was now open and would welcome guests. Miss Hooper's life-long dream of reaching the French and Indians was now within reach.
With the Wesley House set up in Houma, the women were positioned to reach all of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes. The mission field was divided into two areas. One area, with Bourg at the center, was covered by Miss Hooper. The other area, with Raceland and Lockport as the center, was covered by Mrs. White. Within a year, Sunday schools, and Epworth League, and a Woman's Missionary Society had been organized in these locations. Miss Hooper wrote to the New Orleans Christian Advocate periodically over the years. Realizing that the MacDonell School relied on the support of the Conference, she made sure that everyone knew of their activities. She also encouraged guests to come for a visit, to see firsthand the good work being done.
The year 1919 was the year that Miss Hooper finally became a deaconess. Over the years, she had kept up her education during her vacation periods ... attending courses at Emory University, Scarritt in Nashville, Peabody, and Vandebilt. But, she could still not pass the physical requirements for deaconess. The Council decided in 1919 to appoint her a deaconess without the formality of passing the physical requirements.
In February of 1921, Miss Hooper again wrote to the Advocate. She noted that Miss Griffin, the new homemaker, had just arrived. The annual report statistics were as follows: 2737 visits made, 2387 visits received, 45 boys and girls at the summer institutes, 781 garments distributed, 570 Christmas gifts distributed, 300 Christmas cards and messages delivered, 6463 miles travelled in mission work, 778 rides given in the Missionary Ford, and 55 boxes received. The budget for 1921, which was supplied by the Woman's Missionary Council, was $3,900.
In October of 1921, she wrote of the arrival of Miss Moselle Eubanks to the staff. She began work right away with the junior Sunday School class, the Junior Missionary Society, and the Christian Endeavor Society. The summer helpers for 1921 were Bertha Griffin (Crowley), Elvira and Ora Hooper (Rosedale), Mrs. George Elms (Houma), Mrs. J.W. Warren (Houma), Mr. James Grambling (Shreveport), Rev. E.V. Duplantis (Ville Platte), and Mr. James Knight (Bourg). Ora, Ella's sister, later went to school in Alabama and became a missionary herself. Mrs. J.H. McCoy had visited them and travelled around to various country points. The ladies worked hard at filling the Cradle Rolls. They reached fifty homes by the end of the year. Their slogan was, "A Family Altar in Every Cradle Roll Home." The Cradle Roll was kind of a preparatory Sunday school for infants and toddlers.
The MacDonell Wesley Community House was dedicated in the fall of 1921. Dignitaries from around the state, including Bishop W.F. McMurry were in attendance. After a program at the Wesley House, the crowd walked to the Mission Hall (as the church was called) in downtown Houma to hear the Bishop preach. After the service, the bishop travelled to Raceland to dedicate their church.
A copy of the first quarterly record for the Wesley House in 1922 mentions several prominent guests who have visited. Miss Hooper always encouraged visitors to the school. The recordpoints out that Leola Marcelle has just joined the school, bringing the total number to 12. The yearly tuition cost per child was $150. When they couldn't afford it, scholarships were provided by groups and individuals from around the state. For example, Odette Martin had a scholarship from Noel Memorial in Shreveport and Leola Marcelle had a partial scholarship from a Mrs. R.F. Harrell of Tallulah. A new Missionary Society of 13 boys and 3 girls had been formed under the leadership of Miss Eubanks.
Miss Effie K. Fauver arrived in the summer of 1922. She was in charge of the supervising work in the home and meals. She taught the first, second, and third grades and a part of the fourth in the mornings. In the afternoon, she taught industrial classes such as sewing and laundry. The work did not stop even on Sundays. She had a teacher training class at Sunday school. She was in charge of the boys' quiet time from two to four o'clock. On Sunday evenings there were two League meetings and the worship service.
Sunday schools and missionary societies were now being held in six locations. The ladies were helping pastors and evangelists with revivals under a gospel tent.
Each year the Methodist women would hold a Week of Prayer to raise money for missionary purposes. In 1922, Miss Hooper made a request for more money to expand the school. Since there was money left from the previous year, the money ($24,000) was allocated to construct new buildings at Wesley House. The contract to build the school was awarded to the Montague Construction Company, of Abbeville. Two buildings were completed by 1923: the dormitory and school building for boys and girls, and the McCoy Building which contained the kitchen and dining room. The furniture and equipment (and their maintenance) was paid for by the Women's Missionary Society of the Louisiana Conference. A garage, dairy barn, and poultry house were built over the next few years. With construction of the new buildings, Wesley House was now a school.
It was named the MacDonell French Mission School, after former secretary Tochie MacDonell. The boys' activities would include painting, carpentry, gardening, dairying, and raising poultry. The girls' activities would include sewing, cooking, washing, ironing, typing, music lessons, and general homemaking. Students usually joined the Methodist Church shortly after joining the school. The ladies would march the MacDonell students down Main Street to the Methodist church on Sundays. Later a chapel was built on the campus.
By 1923, the enrollment at the school increased to 24. Daily Vacation Bible School began in the early 1920's. The average attendance was over one hundred. It drew from fifteen different communities in the area. Miss Louise Searcy joined the staff this year. She taught fifth grade in the mornings and sewing in the afternoon. On Sundays, she taught a junior class in Sunday school.
Mrs. White was still keeping busy. She held week-day Bible classes for women, worked in the office, taught sight singing, handled the cradle roll department, organized Vacation Bible Schools, and travelled around the state to present their work to missionary societies. Mrs. White's favorite task, holding week-day Bible classes in private homes, was going well. There were 56 babies on the Cradle Roll. She also spent a lot of time in the field.
There was a change in staff for 1924. Mr. H.M. Scott and Miss Lois Hammett came as teachers. Miss Hammett had recently graduated from the Methodist Orphanage in Ruston. Miss Ione Gandy became the new housekeeper. The enrollment at the school for 1924-1925 was 36, with ages ranging from eight to twenty years old. The budget was now at almost $9,000. The first Standard Training School was held in August at the school.
Standard Training Schools were held for the entire district. Attendance was requested of ministers, church officers, Sunday school teachers, Epworth Leaguers, members of Missionary Societies, and anyone interested in the educational program of the church. The meeting was six days long.
In a 1925 bulletin on the MacDonell School, Miss Ella Hooper describes the typical rural Terrebonne Parish home as follows. "The houses are mostly unpainted, unattractive, two-room shacks, with heavy cypress doors and windows, which are kept wide open in winter to let in a little warmth from the sunlight, and tightly closed in summer to keep out the mosquitoes. There is always a small gallery across the front of the house where the family washing is done, and as many other home activities as the space allows. The front room is usually large and contains two to four beds, according to the size of the family, an old-fashioned bureau, an armoire, a sewing machine, and two or more chairs, which are often home-made. A few saint pictures and images ornament the walls and perhaps some enlarged family portraits. The room in the rear is the kitchen, dining room, and living room. At the back of the room is a great open fireplace with a dirt chimney. Near by is the cook stove with the coffeepot already on it, a home-made table covered with brown oilcloth, a safe and some wooden benches. On the back porch, if there is one, and near the cistern, is a shelf on which stands a small granite wash pan, some soap and a coarse towel, which constitute the family bathing facilities. The small front yard is a mass of bloom and the back yard a mud hole and pig wallow."
So, what kind of children went to the MacDonell School? Generally they were children that Miss Hooper would meet on her trips up and down the bayous. Most came from Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, though quite a few came from other areas of the state. She found young people who desired to learn or were in need of the school's assistance. Two examples are the stories of Tom and Velia.
Tom and his family lived on a houseboat down the bayou. One day, Tom accidentally fell into the bayou. His mother jumped in and rescued him, but she drowned in the process. His father, atrapper, was left alone with Tom and his little sister. With no mother to care for him, Tom soon became so covered with a skin disease that his skin looked like brown leather. Tom's father heard about the school Miss Hooper was operating and took the boy to Houma. Within a few weeks at the school, Tom had regained a healthful appearance. He soon became one of Miss Hooper's favorites at the school. After graduation, he entered the military. Tom is still a member of the Methodist Church today.
Velia also lived down the bayou at Point au Chien. She was familiar with Miss Hooper and looked forward to her visits. Her older sister was invited by Miss Hooper to attend MacDonell. Velia wanted to go too, but her mother said that she was needed at home. Nevertheless, Velia was determined to go. One day, when Miss Hooper came by, Velia got on board the Missionary Ford and went to MacDonell. Though her mother didn't want her to go, she let her stay at MacDonell. Velia remembers those days fondly, except for the weeds. Miss Hooper insisted that the students speak in English. Everytime she used a French word, which was her normal language, Velia would have to pull a weed. She believes that she single-handedly cleared several acres of weeds that way. Velia, the little girl who "ran away" to go to school, eventually graduated from high school and left MacDonell when she got married. She, too, is still a member of the Methodist Church today.
Miss Lucy Kagey was added to the staff in 1925. She taught the fourth and fifth grades in the morning and boys industrial classes in the evening. As Miss Kagey said, it was necessary to teach them how to make better homes, but "each contact is an opportunity to teach Jesus Christ."
Miss Lillie Schack joined the staff in 1926. She taught the first, second, and third grades in the morning and boys' industrial classes in the afternoon.
Mrs. Downs, the Administrative Secretary at that time, secured a $9,000 gift from Centenary in 1927. It was used for improvements and to purchase two more acres of land. An adjacent home was bought to use for the younger girls. They named it Hope Cottage, because they had long hoped they could buy it. It later burned down when a teacher left a paint can too close to a heater.
By 1929, the school's enrollment was up to 63. Miss Hooper mentioned in the Council report that "gris-gris" was causing some students to drop out. Gris-gris was the Cajun equivalent of voo-doo or black magic. One could go on and on with the stories of superstition. The Acadians had mixed the superstitions with the Catholic faith. The Methodists debunked all such superstitions, making their acceptance difficult for some natives who were familiar with the old ways.
The rural work was now reaching out to four parishes. The students were now helping out with Junior Missionary Societies. Deaconesses Mattie Lou Neal and Muriel Bell joined the staff this year. Miss Bell was an R.N. who came to care for the medical needs of the school.
Deaconess Lillie J. Hendricks joined the staff in 1930. Most of her time was spent at the Wesley House. It served as the "home" building for the students during their social hours. Miss Hendricks was the supervisor of classroom instruction.
Miss Ruth Wyche and deaconess Myrta Davis joined the staff in 1931. Miss Wyche served as the superintendent of the school during the absence of Miss Hooper, who had gone down to Dulac to work with the Indians. The enrollment stood at 62. The school work covered second through ninth grade. Students above the ninth grade level went to Terrebonne High School. The teachers were still faced with the problem that the new students could only speak French. Gradually, they would pick up enough French to get them by until the students learned English. Vacation Bible Schools were expanding, now being held in five locations around the area.
Miss Hooper returned as superintendent in 1932. Other teachers on staff included deaconesses Elizabeth Covington, Shiela Nuttall, Lillie J. Hendricks, Emma Vogel, and Ollie Willings. Miss Covington, a music teacher, found that the children are by nature musical. Miss Vogel worked as a nurse. Miss Nuttall had been raised in Louisiana. She noted that she had never realized that such a need existed in our state. Miss Willings stated that before she came, she wondered where her missionary work would come in. After a short while in the parish, she stated that "there cannot be a greater field than the one found here. Even though the teachers had a full week at the school, they were still travelling to the rural areas on the weekends and in the summer.
In 1932, MacDonell was again the recipient of the Week of Prayer money. Keener Hall, a girls' dormitory, was added to the MacDonell School with the funds. It served as a girls dormitory and infirmary.
Deaconess Bessie Williams was added to the staff in 1933. She was the librarian and taught high school English.
The enrollment of the school was up to 90 by 1935. Deaconess Pearlye Maye Kelley joined the staff that year. After a two year absence, deaconess Elizabeth Covington returned to the staff.
By 1936, there were twelve adult workers at MacDonell. The newest addition was Miss Susie Teel. She taught the fourth grade, which included students aged nine to fifteen. Upon her arrival in September, she stated "I was impressed with the beauty of the place. The campus is an enchantment. I found here a veritable beehive of devoted, loyal men and women, busily engaged in their several tasks of directing the studies and other activities of the various groups. The work of the campus and the local church forms the center of activities which extend for miles into adjacent needy communities. I love and enjoy the work and count it a high privilege to share in this most worthwhile field of service."
By 1938, the MacDonell School curriculum had expanded to include all grades from elementary to the high school level. The enrollment was larger than ever, and there was a long waiting list. New personnel added this year included deaconess Anna FayFowler, Mabel K. Harrell, Annie Law, and David Paul Smith. There were directed playground activities twice a week. A social event or outing was held at the school each Friday evening. Each day started with services in the chapel. The older students were actively helping out with the missionary work in rural areas. Plans were being made to build the Houma Heights Church on property at the back of the MacDonell School. This meant that the students would not have to walk all the way to the church in Houma. A pastor, Oakley Lee, had already been assigned and was holding services in the school's chapel.
Downs' Hall, a kitchen and dining hall, was added to the MacDonell Home in 1940. It was named after Mrs. J.W. Downs. Mrs. Downs was the administrative secretary for the Woman's Missionary Council at that time.
From 1949 to 1953, the function of MacDonell changed from that of a boarding school to a school for Indians. MacDonell ceased operations as a school in 1953 and became a home for dependent children. The children who stayed there attended the public schools.
Miss Ella Hooper left the MacDonell School in 1949 to help her sister, Wilhemina, at the Indian school in Dulac. The Woman's Division, which was taking over responsibility of the Dulac Mission, began work on a school building in 1950. Miss Ella Hooper moved into the unfinished building to help to get the building and grounds in shape.
In August 1951, Miss Ella Hooper retired at the age of sixty-five and moved back to Rosedale. Mrs. Laura White, the co-founder of MacDonell School, had left a few years earlier; because of poor health, she went to a nursing home in New Orleans.
Ada W. Dail succeeded Miss Hooper as the director of MacDonell in August of 1951. Other directors through the years include Julia Ried (1950), Nettie Thornton (1950-1954), Velma Lee Hair (1954), Anne Coucoules (1954-1957), Maude Bristol (1957-1958), Harry Ezell (1958-1960), and John Howe (1960-1969). G.J. Bridges has been the director since 1969.
The Ella K. Hooper Cottage was dedicated at the MacDonell Methodist Center. Miss Hooper was present for the ceremonies. Shortly after, Miss Ella K. Hooper passed away on June 28, 1967 in her home in Rosedale at age eighty-five.
Presently, MacDonell is a therapeutic residential facility for school age children. It is still owned by the Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. It is now known as MacDonell United Methodist Children's Services.
Rev. Franklin J. McCoy: 1917-1927
Franklin J. McCoy was assigned to replace Rev. Morgan at the Houma charge, which now had 80 members. He would spend the next ten years here in Houma. There was one church (Bayou Blue) in the charge and one parsonage (in Houma). The Lafourche Mission had 48 members, while the rest of the French Mission had 225 members.
Rev. Franklin Jay McCoy was born on August 28, 1882 in Winchester, Kansas. His family was one of the five families in the "Wagon Train Party" that moved to southwest Louisiana in 1890. Brother Mac, as he was called, was a hard worker and enjoyed working with his hands. He used his skills in carpentry, plumbing, and farming to help build our church, as well as to help raise extra money to live on. One of his jobs to help put food on the table was working on the installation of the gas pipeline in Houma for his friend, J.H. Thatcher.
He was a man of the people; the kind of person that you couldn't help but like. He was a large man with a deep voice. He enjoyed singing. While in college at Centenary, he was on the football team. His speaking style was not the greatest, but the sincerity of his sermons captivated his congregations. His sermons were practical and conversational. Rev. McCoy was also very supportive of the native/local pastors. He would also walk around town to visit his congregation on Mondays.
Rev. McCoy's wife, Lucy, was loved by everyone. She was as small as her husband was big. A soft-spoken woman, she knew how to look past the trivial things that annoy most people and concentrate on the important things in life. Lucy taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and was a member of the Missionary Society. She always referred to her husband as "Dearie." Although she was ill herself, she managed to survive to take care of him. She died two months after he did.
Rev. McCoy served around the state. His longest stay by far was in Houma, where he spent ten years. A heart attack during his appointment at LeCompte in the mid-1940's forced him to retire from the pulpit. After spending time recovering in Lafayette and Dry Creek, the McCoy's moved near Crowley. Rev. McCoy took up gardening and raising chickens. He also served as the visiting minister at the nearby Methodist Church. Rev. McCoy passed away in February of 1966. As Dr. B. Joseph Martin said in a memorial, Brother Mac lived his life with an exclamation point!
In April, 1917, Rev. A.D. Martin, writing from Raceland, tells the Advocate that he now had eleven preaching places, notincluding Houma. He notes that Rev. Morgan is doing an excellent job in Houma. He goes on to mention the "superstitions" that the Catholic people had ... including holy water, holy candles, holy pieces of grass (to save them from fire, thunder, or drowning). Some of the men have raised families for forty years without getting married and didn't know it was wrong until they heard a French Methodist preacher.
The Methodist church in Gibson was still being used by the Episcopalians. A Houma Times article dated December 15, 1917 states that Rev. Davis Sessums, the Episcopal bishop of Louisiana, would preach at "St. Anna's Mission" in Gibson the next day.
At the 1919 Louisiana Conference, Martin Hebert was the presiding elder of the Houma District. For a short time, the circuits around the French Mission were known as the Houma District. Rev. F.J. McCoy was appointed to Houma for the third year. Houma had 65 members. Rev. A.J. Martin was appointed to the Lockport charge for the second year. The Lockport church had 81 members and one church building. Local preachers serving the district out of Bourg were A.D. Martin and R.E. Martin. The Bayou Blue church had 90 members.
In an article to the New Orleans Christian Advocate on January 29, 1919, Rev. A.J. Martin wrote from the church at Lockport. He relayed the situation "down the bayou." Rev. Martin states that he is living in a rented house and is preaching out of the front room of that house. He notes that the people are hesitant to come to hear him for fear of excommunication from the Catholic church. After all, the Catholic church has been here "forever." The Methodists don't have a church, a cemetery, and haven't been here for long. A man recently died and Rev. Martin prayed over him. Because of this, the priest refused to officiate the funeral ... and grudgingly allowed him to be buried in the Catholic cemetery (only because it was the only one around). Rev. Martin says that we need to put down roots so that the people will have confidence in Methodism. The only church along the Bayou Lafourche is at Raceland, though he visits several preaching places where people allow him to use their homes.
In that same year, Rev. A.D. Martin wrote from the church at Bayou Blue. He was trying to get Methodists elsewhere to understand that the mission field in south Louisiana was as "backwards" as mission fields abroad. He writes about the practices of Catholics in the areas. When someone was sick, the priest would hang prayer beads around the bed. Sometimes someone would have to stay up all night to keep holy candles burning. A piece of grass in the shape of a cross was sprinkled with salt and burned to keep them from being hurt in storms. He states that many teenagers have never been inside a church. The young people can't read or write. They spend their Sundays fishing or hunting or fighting.
The Catholic Church continued to be a hindrance to the spread of Methodism. Rev. LaGrange told of how the Catholic priests held the Methodists up as an example of people who support their church because they like it. Then, when the people wanted to go to the Methodist church to see for themselves what they were missing, the priest would warn them. He'd say, "Didn't I tell you not to go to that church, for our church is the oldest and only church. I will not give you absolution, neither will I bury you when you die." That was what the people, whose families had been Catholic for hundreds of years, had to face if they thought about attending a Methodist service.
At the 1920 conference, the Houma District was now called the French Mission District once again. Rev. A.D. Martin was sent to Lydia. K.F. Martin was to serve the Bayou Circuit as a supply. Rev. A.J. Martin was sent to Port Barre and St. Martin. Rev. McCoy stayed in Houma, assisted by five local preachers: R.E. Martin, E.V. Duplantis, Jas. A. Knight, Edgar Dufrene, and Aristide Brulet. Houma had grown to 80 members and Bayou Blue had 105.
The Houma District held a rally for the youth on June 20, 1920, at the Houma Church. The State Superintendent of Young Peoples' work presided over the program. The youth organization at this time was known as the Epworth League. There was a senior division for the high school age and a junior division for junior high age. A traditional Epworth League meeting consisted of singing, a program, and devotions. They had a book to use for some of the songs and the devotions. The League would meet on Friday nights for social get-togethers. One of the presidents of the Epworth League around this time was B. Joseph "Buddy" Martin, son of Rev. A.D. Martin, who would later enter the ministry himself. Buddy Martin also worked as a janitor for the Red Brick church for a while for $10 a month.
Copyright 1994 Timothy Hebert