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St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church

The design of the picturesque St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Grand Coteau has been attributed to James Freret on the basis of drawings he made in 1875.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church

Courtesy of Louisiana State University Libraries, Special Collections

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church Bell Tower. Unidentified

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, a picturesque wooden church in Grand Coteau, is the home of the third-oldest church parish in the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, behind only St. Martin de Tours Church in St. Martinville and St. Landry Church in Opelousas. Built by Jesuit brothers and staffed since its construction by Jesuit priests, St. Charles Borromeo is located on Church Street, adjacent to the church cemetery and a replica of the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France. It has a pedimented gable front, above which is a square tower that rises in stages to a steeple. This tower is overwhelmed by an enormous Second Empire belfry over the sanctuary, added in 1886 to house a bell donated by one of the parishioners. Covered by a tall, dormered mansard roof, the two-story bell tower has a second story surrounded by a narrow balcony and balustrade and an open arcade for displaying the bell.

The design of the church (excluding the bell tower of 1880) has been attributed to James Freret on the basis of drawings he made in 1875, although these only vaguely resemble the church as it stands. However, Freret did do work for the Jesuits, for example, at Mobile, Alabama. If Freret designed this church, it was not begun until 1879, and it is clear that numerous changes were made. The steeple at the front of the church is quite different from the one in the Freret drawing, which shows a spire rising uninterrupted from the roofline. The church’s present spire is a replacement built in 1950 after the previous wooden one, which it replicates, was struck by lightning. Freret’s scheme for the interior was not followed, for his design shows a gallery over the aisles, which was not built, and what appear to be iron brackets on slender columns supporting an arcade. The church has an arcade of slender, square paneled piers with Composite capitals, a small balcony at the rear, and a flat ceiling with stenciled decoration. Artist Erasmus Humbrecht, who also painted some frescoes at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, is recorded as having executed the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary in the church. Fourteen appear in niches along the aisle walls (seven on each side) and the fifteenth, the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven, is a large oval painting on the ceiling above the sanctuary/altar area. Stained glass windows from the studio of Emil Frei date from the 1920s and 1940s.

Adapted from Karen Kingsley’s Buildings of Louisiana, part of the Buildings of the United States series commissioned by the Society of Architectural Historians (www.sah.org) and published by Oxford University Press.