I found a book at the library the other day on the history of Catholic churches in Louisiana. I couldn’t locate my reading glasses so I borrowed a magnifying glass from the librarian and started perusing (no, it can’t be that I’m getting older; the type is getting smaller).
From the book, I learned that records for St. Patrick in Gibson only go back to 1887 even though it was a mission church as far back as 1845. Services apparently were held before a church existed.
The first entry for the Gibson church was for a burial. An African-American woman named Melia was buried in November 1887. No mention is made of her surname.
Father Hebert’s books note Melia’s death and burial.
This is all we’ll probably ever know about Melia. Her contribution to history is being a first – and only having a first name.
Newspaper writers of bygone years could be a little flowery – or Victorian – in their writing. Still, this is an interesting tour of the Ascension of Our Lord cemetery in Donaldsonville from “The Donaldsonville Chief.” I’ve added modern photos.
All Saints’ Day–The Principal Tombs and Decorations in the Catholic cemetery —
“There is no more beautiful custom in the Catholic religion than the observance of All Saints’ Day, which has been set apart by the Church to the memory of the saints
and is a feast of obligation as regards attending divine service and abstaining from
manual labor. The peculiar and touching custom of decorating the last resting places
of loved ones who have fallen under the relentless hand of the great reaper is essentially Southern, and has been of late years observed by nearly all religious denominations.
The old Catholic Cemetery of Donaldsonville, where sleep so many of its founders, contains numerous handsome and costly tombs and monuments, as well as poor and humble ones, but both classes alike bore evidence that those who rest within still live,
hallowed in loving hearts and undying memories. The cemetery is approached by
a long grassy walk, bordered on each side with tall, widespreading willows, and ere
the visitor has reached the gates of the hallowed enclosure, the mellowed light, the
hush and solitude seem to shut him away solemnly from all the outer world.
Just beyond the entrance, to the right of central avenue down which we look upon
passing through the gates, is the Bringier tomb, a square, granite mausoleum, the
largest in the cemetery, in which lie members of the Bringier, Tureaud, Kenner and
Colomb families. It was simply decorated here and there with natural flowers, and in
one corner of the railed enclosure stood a bundle of sugar cane, bound like a sheaf of
wheat. A compartment in the side of the tomb devoted to the Colomb family had
been but a few days before opened to receive the remains of Marie Louise Colomb,
who had been snatched away from earthly life at the age of 15, before she had tasted
either its joys or sorrows. Immediately opposite the Bringier tomb, on the other side
of the avenue, is the tomb of Mrs. Antoine D. Vega, one of the few in the graveyard
that bears a poetical inscription.
In front of the O’Malley tomb, a little further down the avenue, a broken column
of snowy white told a pathetic tale of a bright young life cut off in all its promise,
and bore the simple inscription, “John O’Malley.”
On the Wilson tomb near by was carved the name of Mary Armide Theresa Wilson,
aged 10 months. Loving hands had tenderly placed sweets flowers here, fragrant as
the fleeting perfume of her life, weaving them about the marble slab which bore up
on its face the indelible letters telling of the time when Christ suffered them to come unto Him.
Further along a black marble headstone told of Doctor A. Maszke, Baron of Elpenbein, a native of Mariampol, Pologne, who died far from home and loved ones, a poltical exile from his native land.
The family tombs of Jean Dominique, Comstock, Simon Braud, Dr. Theo. Webre, Robt. Coquille, Guedry, Matthew Couughlin and Louis Dalmas are among the most conspicuous in this portion of the cemetery, the two last named attracting especial attention by their decorations and the flowers and shrubs growing around them.
On a flat, old-fashioned ” table tomb” was traced the name of Eloi Melancon, grass-grown and mossy, as if preparing for a final plunge into oblivion.
The beautiful Gothic sepulchre of the Andrews family, the antebellum owners of Evan Hall, is constructed of finest marble and attracts immediate attention.
Near the end of the middle avenue are grouped the tombs of several branches of the Duffel family, all bedecked with natural flowers.
At the termination of the avenue rises the great mission cross so recently erected, and
near its base, surrounded by an ornamental iron railing, repose the remains of the Sisters of Charity who have breathed their last within the peaceful walls of the St. Vincent
Institute. In the centre of the enclosure rests the revered Sister Mary Austin, whose
grave is surmounted by an imposing headstone erected by the ladies of the parish,
many of whom were her pupils in bygone years. Two large urns, bearing the initials
E. J. and M. V. respectively, and filled with blooming chrysanthemums, composed the
offerings to this gentle religieusd, whose good deeds and kindly excellence will never
fade from the memory of those who knew and honored her in life. Within the shadow of the cross she served so faithfully she sleepeth well.
Turning now to the left we pass the tombs of J. LeBlanc, E. Bujol, T. Landry and Hubert Treille, all newly cleaned and decorated. Below these a spacious iron-railed enclosure contains two old tombs said to bear the names of Pedesclaux and Winchester. Weeds and wild flowers hold high carnival here; coarse coxcombs have thrust their gaudy heads through fissures in the brickwork, and from the gnarled branches of a leafless tree, trembling and swaying with every passing breeze, there hang the dismantled remnants of a forsaken nest.
Adjacent to this neglected spot is the tall and stately Landry sepulchre, the most conspicuous in the cemetery, wherein lie the remains of members of the old Landry and
Duffel families. A stray shell injured a corner of this structure during the war, and
for many years a great hole in the mason work disfigured it, but the place has been
neatly repaired and no longer serves as a reminder of the time when the passions of
the living marred even the tranquil slumber of the dead. At the entrance of this
mausoleum a headstone marks the resting place of Father Herman Stucke. Father
Tichitoli was also buried here in an upright position; in conformity. with his dying re
quest, the slab above him forming one of the steps of the Landry tomb, but the remains have lately been relocated to the enclosure belonging to the Sisters.
Turning again to the left and coming up the lower avenue, we pass tombs bearing
the familiar names of LeBlanc, Ayraud, David Israel, Mollere and Hatkinson-four
of the latter in a group-Tournillion, Randall, Dugas, Brand, Rlanchard and others
equally well known and prominent in this community.
One simple headboard, graced with a posy of white marguerites, bore the name of
Ada Terrio; not many among us have forgotten the gentle girl who, then buddiing
into beauteous womanhood, faltered and left us by the way.
Near here is the beautiful Bethancourt tomb, recently enlarged and improved. A
shaft of white marble has been erected, and four urns, one at each corner of the
burial plot. At the foot of the stone a tiny cross appears, ” Erected to the memory of
Little Arthur,” a nephew of the gentleman who had these lovely testimonials placed in
position-Mr. L. S. Bethancourt, for many years a resident of Panama, who visited his
native land not long ago.
Many imposing tombs are situated in this vicinity. That of Jean Baptiste Gaudin, a
large granite structure, is very conspicuous, and so are two of similar device bearing the
names of Aristide Landry and D’Ignace Dugas. The tomb of H. S. Boudreaux and
his little daughter Adele was tastefully decorated as also was that of Michael Keating. Both were freshly whitewashed and covered with natural flowers.
Near the upper end of the front cross avenue, to the right of the entrance, are several handsome tombs, notably that of the Seyfried family, in which repose the remains of Gottlieb Seyfried, Mrs. Baptiste Walker and Mrs. Patrick Reddington, the last named of whom but a few short weeks ago crossed the shadowy path which separates time from eternity.
All through the cemetery the eye is met by old tombs fast falling into decay; the.
bricks, green and dank with age, are covered with a tangle of wild verdure, as if nature’s tender hand had sought to hide the touch of time. Some bear, in letters that are fast passing away, inscriptions dated as far back as 1836; others have faded, decaying decorations, dried and withered flowers that crack and crumble at the touch,
but too plainly indicating that the gentle hands which placed them there have long
since fallen to dust. On one such Mecca of earthly hopes appears the legend, ” Une
epouse et une mere inconsolable.”
Almost all the decorations were of natural flowers, though a few clung to the old
style of paper and bead wreaths. Some tiny mounds simply bore branches of evergreen
laid across the top, showing that mothers still lived and cherished the memory of
these “babes that never grow old.”
The quaint, curious custom of burning candles before the graves was observed in many instances, and very gruesome these flickering points of light looked, shining out in the gathering twilight. The huge cross threw heavy shadows, touching with wavering fingers the last homes of those “gathered within the fold;” and the sweet tones of the Angelus bells broke musically upon the evening air, ringing la Toussand of 1885 into the annals of the past.”
My husband’s family hails from the Grand Coteau area. It’s a beautiful town with an absolutely gorgeous church and homes. We visited the graveyard to see the stones for my husband’s grandfather and assorted relatives.
Here’s my modest list of just a fraction of the graves:
Adolph Guilbeau, March 8, 1900-Jan. 3, 1984
Laura B. Guilbeau, May 20, 1900-Dec. 11, 1974
Onesiphore Broussard, died Jan. 31, 1881, age 40
Nita Guilbeau Dugas, Jan. 14, 1881-Oct. 14, 1978
Zenon J. Dugas, July 24, 1888-Nov. 17, 1928
Lionel Guilbeau, Aug. 7, 1891-July 1, 1946
Dr. Ben Joseph Guilbeau, Sept. 3, 1860-Aug. 4, 1935
Natolia Castille Guilbeau, April 16, 1891-March 18, 1994
Saul Guilbeau, June 25, 1873-April 13, 1916
Dr. Felix C. Guilbeau, Aug. 29, 1877-July 13, 1931
Edmond C. Guilbeau, died Aug. 14, 1931
Ernest Guilbeaux, June 19, 1860-Feb. 17, 1925
Marie Thelma Durden, 1928-1962
Mrs. Oge Guilbeau, 1898-1996 (mother of Marie Thelma Durden)