St. John the Baptist Parish History
In the late 1700’s Baton Rouge priests from St. Joseph’s Church, incorporated in 1820 and now a Cathedral, were coming to the area now know as St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Parish to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments.
There being no bridges or ferries to cross the river at that time, the priests came over in “skiffs.” Since there was no church building, the faithful assembled in local homes, often in the home of Jean Baptiste Hebert, who was an early benefactor of our church. Jean Baptiste Hebert came to be a wealthy land owner in the Brusly area. It is not stated in church records, but perhaps it can be surmised that the parish was named by Jean Baptiste after his patron saint, John the Baptist. Jean Baptiste Hebert’s name is the first on the list of those who had the congregation incorporated by a special law of the Louisiana legislature on March 19, 1835, under the name “l’Eglise Catholique de St. Jean Baptiste d’Ouest Baton Rouge.”
Prior to 1832, the congregation’s first chapel was located on land owned by Jean Baptiste. The chapel was built not only on his property, but at his expense. This tract of land has long disappeared into the Mississippi River (just southeast of our present church).
In 1838 the congregation decided to purchase the tract of land on which we have our present church cemetery and other buildings. On January 11, 1840, a new brick church building was completed, closer to the river in front of the present church. The brick church was destroyed by fire in 1907, and our present church was built the same year. A recent book, Louisiana Church Architecture, contains a black and white photograph of our church and a brief description of the architecture. It is described as a rectangular wood frame structure. The Gothic Revival style of the exterior is suggested by the pointed openings. However, there are no buttresses, pinnacles, or tracery. On the interior, the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary was the first main altar. It was moved to the side altar and replaced with the present altar in 1913. A matching altar was purchased for the right side, the altar of St. John the Baptist. The backs of the main and side altars were added sometime after 1913. The altars were fabricated in Europe. The church was remodeled in the 1950’s and again in 1979.
The present rectory was completed in 1936. The parish hall (now St. Francis Hall), was originally St. Francis of Assisi Chapel at Sardine Point, and was moved to the present location in 1932. The first mausoleum was developed in 1968 with several additions since then. The catechetical building was dedicated in 1976. The Bourgeois House (present office building) was purchased in 1982. In the 1970’s, a pre-kindergarten for 3 and 4 year old children was instituted.
Our church parish has been blessed with many faithful pastors, beginning in 1841 when Fr. Evard who was a pastor in Baton Rouge was appointed non-resident pastor of St. John the Baptist. Later, in 1841, he was appointed the first and official pastor of the parish. Some of the most significant and longest lasting pastoral assignments were that of Fr. Eugene Royer (1909-1936); Fr. Victor Baron (1936-1956); and Fr. Lloyd Caballero (1956-1973).