Mother Mary Hyacinth
Mother Mary Hyacinth led nine Daughters of the Cross from France to central Louisiana in 1855 to open a convent and several schools.
Madeline LeConniat, who later took the name Mother Mary Hyacinth, was an influential educator and religious leader in central Louisiana. She was a member of the Catholic church, which frequently looked to France to supply missionaries for its religious and educational work in the state, especially in small towns and rural areas where Francophone Catholics often lived in relative isolation.
Madeleine LeConniat was born to Joseph Le Conniat and Catherine Le Grand in Brittany, a region of northwestern France, in January 1816. She took the name Mary Hyacinth when she joined Daughters of the Cross, a Catholic teaching order. In 1855 Bishop Auguste Martin, of the newly created Diocese of Natchitoches, invited LeConniat to central Louisiana. She led nine other Daughters, with whom she opened a convent and school. LeConniat served as mother superior of the Louisiana convent for several years and helped the order found schools such as Presentation Academy in Avoyelles Parish and St. Vincent’s in Shreveport, as well as schools in Isle Brevelle, Alexandria, and Monroe.
Adjustment to life in antebellum Louisiana was not easy for LeConniat. She disliked the hot climate, and illness plagued her. She also had difficulty coming to terms with slavery, though she eventually purchased a slave to cultivate the land and support the convent. In addition, LeConniat was shocked by the lack of piety among Louisiana Catholics and often frustrated by her inability to speak English. Finally, she had to solicit financial support for the mission, no easy task in and of itself.
The Civil War brought new difficulties: shortages of food and other supplies, rapid and devastating inflation, and falling enrollments that forced the order to close schools. As troops moved through central and northern Louisiana, the Daughters of the Cross struggled to house and feed themselves, students, and refugees. Meanwhile, their convents fell victim to looting and damage during the Battle of Mansura and other fighting during the Red River campaign.
By 1867, the French motherhouse discontinued its support of the Louisiana mission. LeConniat returned to France to establish a novitiate in Le Relecq where nuns would be trained for the American convent. Two years later, she was reelected mother superior and recalled to Louisiana, where the mission continued its work without support from the French motherhouse. In 1882, at the age of sixty-five, Mary Hyacinth LeConniat returned to France for the last time and took charge of the American novitiate in Le Relecq. She died on October 26, 1897 at the age of 81. The Daughters of the Cross continued to operate schools in central and northern Louisiana into the twentieth century, building on the foundation that Mary Hyacinth and her sisters established.