Murders, a fire & flood: The fascinating 240-year-old history of Saint John the Baptist Church in Edgard

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EDGARD, La. — Along Highway 18 in Edgard, you’ll see a small sign. And if you follow the gravel road it leads to, you’ll find a place of worship that was established 237 years ago: The Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church and Cemetery.

Three churches have been built in this spot. One was washed away by a flood. The second one burned down in 1917. The third one — existing today – is almost a hundred years old.

“It cost $140,000 to build it and today they think it would be over a million something. It’s a beautiful place to worship,” Historian Warren Caire said.

While this resplendent church has brought light to so many, it has also known darkness.

In the late 1800s, local politicians arrested Father Alexander Juille since they thought he had too much power. The Archbishop of New Orleans closed the church for three and a half years. Some say Father Juille cursed the parish after he was released.

“That’s a bad story and it’s not true. In the records, he forgave the people and left in good graces,” Caire said.

But the parish’s troubles did not end there. A yellow fever epidemic struck in 1853, killing more than 11,000 people in one year. Hurricane Betsy wreaked havoc on the church a hundred years later.

A decade after that, two men broke into the church and murdered a priest, a nun, and a housekeeper.

“It was a sad, sad event – and the church, the parish took a long while to recover from it,” Caire said.

This church – like many others during that time – was segregated. But in 1954, that changed, and Deacon Warren Pierre was a part of that change.

“We were the first minority persons chosen to serve as altar boys,” Pierre said.

Now, Dr. Caire says the parish is predominantly African American. The church is united, despite the hard times.

“It’s old but it’s very revered by many, many generations of people. It’s a very unified community – that’s why it’s special to me,” Caire said.

So if you want a break from the hustle and bustle, and need some serenity  — and history — St. John the Baptist is calling.

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