History of St. Francis Church
In 1884, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church founded after a dispute between the parishioners of the Church of the Ascension of Our Lord and the Archbishop of the Diocese of New Orleans over ownership and control of church money and property. An interdict imposed on the church and all sacraments ended. The parishioners forcibly expelled the pastor from his position for obeying the archbishop’s order and refusing to offer the sacraments.
After his expulsion out of Ascension, the pastor traveled north along the Mississippi River to a settlement known as Smoke Bend. He began saying mass in private homes and then in a local store, but he felt a more permanent house of worship needed. As tradition would have it, early French settlers came to a bend in the river and saw smoke from Indian campfires rising above the trees, thus naming the settlement "Faubourg la Boucane" which meant "The Suburb of Smoke.”
Construction of the first St. Francis church building began in 1884 and construction completed in 1890. With its Spanish-style architecture, it had a main tower with a large belfry, above a large, double-door entrance. Two smaller towers stood on each side. It officially incorporated as a church parish in 1894. Church records indicate that this building was damaged by a hurricane and then by a fire on January 6, 1924. It rebuilt and restored after both disasters. Then in 1935, the Mississippi River levee moved causing the church to relocate. The church originally faced the river, but in the new location, it repositioned to face Highway 1. This is the current location of the present church.
In 1942, plans for a new church made because of the structural damage due to the recent fire and relocation. The third church built in record time and dedicated on June 28, 1942. The 40 feet wide and 83 feet long, structure looked simple compared to its predecessor with its white stucco and mission style frame. The interior was finished in Celotex and its altar conformed to the liturgical standards of the day. During this buildings’34 year tenure in 1961, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, formally a part of the Diocese of New Orleans incorporated into the newly formed Diocese of Baton Rouge.
The fourth and current church structure built in 1975. A modern one-level building, combining masonry and brick with laminated trusses erected to serve the parish. Its lectionary and altar are made of cypress. The stained-glass windows, Stations of the Cross, and baptismal font carried over from the interior of the previous church. The pews donated from Our Lady of Mercy parish in Baton Rouge.
The parishioners of St. Francis continue to display their deep-rooted faith by mutual care of one another. This sign of love is a testament of the church’s survival and has helped it flourish throughout its 128-year history. They are living memories of hard working Catholics who made St. Francis the kind of church it is today - a church of God’s people.
From July 1, 2004 to present day, St. Francis of Assisi and Ascension of Our Lord joined again to form a cluster parish with one priest serving as pastor of both parishes.