St. Agnes Catholic Church at 749 East Boulevard, Baton Rouge, LA 70802 US - A Complete History
A Complete History
The pastor and the people of St. Joseph's Congregation of Baton Rouge realized in 1912 the necessity of erecting a second Catholic parish in Baton Rouge. There was a large Catholic community living in and around a section called "Swart Hill", which was south of St. Joseph Church. On July 7, 1912, a meeting of the board of trustees of St. Joseph Parish was held at the rectory at which time permission was granted to the Very Rev. Arthur Drossaerts, pastor (later Archbishop of San Antonio, Texas) to take preliminary steps for the erection of a new church, to buy a suitable site and to contract any necessary debts for the execution of these plans.
The authorization to form a second Baton Rouge parish was obtained in an official letter from Archbishop Blenk dated May 27, 1912. The first site chosen for the new parish was four lots on the corner of East Boulevard and Reddy Street (now known as Terrace Street). The selection of this site was abandoned however in favor of the Hall property which consisted of three large lots on the corner of East Boulevard and St. Maximilian Street. This property was purchased on November 4, 1912 at a cost of $3,100.00. This price included a residence on the grounds.
The foundation for the first church to serve this new mission parish was laid in December 1912, and the building was completed in October 1913. Dedicated to the lovely virgin and martyr, Saint Agnes, this building served as a missionary chapel from 1913 - 1917. The first Mass offered here was on October 19, 1913.
Fr. Francis Rombouts, assistant at St. Joseph's, was assigned by Archbishop Blenk as the first priest in charge of St. Agnes Chapel. During this time Fr. Rombouts continued to reside at the rectory at St. Joseph's. His place was taken in 1916 by Fr. Vincent Prats when Fr. Rombouts was assigned to St. Francisville. Fr. Prats was also an assistant at St. Joseph's.
On February 9, 1917, St. Agnes was established into an independent parish by Archbishop Blenk. Fr. Edward Romouts, the brother of Fr. Francis Rombouts, was named to be first pastor. A suitable rectory was built by the new pastor. The new church was partially destroyed by fire on July 3, 1918, but was rebuilt and enlarged so as to accommodate the growing congregation. On the church grounds a large hall was built in 1920 for use as a meeting place and for catechetical classes.
In October 1934, Fr. Edward Rombouts was succeeded by Fr. Lucien Caillouet (Fr. Caillouet later became Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New Orleans) as the second pastor of St. Agnes. Fr. Caillouet was called from the pastorate of Holy Family Church in Port Allen to assume to pastorate at St. Agnes.
New property was bought for the parish on January 5, 1936. An entire city square located two blocks north of the first church was purchased at that time. This property is the site of the present church. Three wood framed buildings were erected and served as the school and convent. The Dominican Sisters who took charge of the parish school were welcomed on August 18, 1936. The first school and convent opened on September 8, 1936, when Sister Mary Clare, O.P. became the first principal of the school.
On June 3, 1938, Fr. Patrick Gillespie succeeded Fr. Lucien Caillouet as the third pastor of St. Agnes with Fr. Daniel J. Becnel serving as associate. It was soon realized that the existing church building was too small and becoming more crowded. It was obvious that a new convent and school would also be necessary. However, the start of World War II put any immediate plans for a new church on hold until early 1946 at which time a major fund drive was started. Four benefactors helped make possible the purchase of the additional property for the present rectory, convent, school and gymnasium. The school and gym were completed in 1948 and work began on the new church in 1950.
The second St. Agnes Church, our present church, was dedicated by Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel of the Archdiocese of New Orleans on November 4, 1951. Msgr. Gillespie moved with St. Agnes to its new location and served as pastor for 44 years until his death on Pentecost Sunday in 1982.
Msgr. Gillespie deeply loved St. Agnes and the parishioners here. His deep love for the parish was manifested in many ways: his inevitable letter to the parishioners whenever he made a trip away from us, his successful determination in obtaining the Central Fire Station bell for St. Agnes' bell tower, and his devoted attention to his beloved parishioners at St. Agnes even when given the extra responsibility of being appointed Vicar General of the new Diocese of Baton Rouge.
"Nothing is too good for the parishioners of St. Agnes" often resounded from the pulpit when Msgr. Gillespie spoke. Legacy of Msgr.'s philosophy is evident even today when one admires so many elements of our beautiful church: the stained glass windows, the mosaic Stations of the Cross, and the triple sculptures over the three front doors that protray in exquisite beauty St. Agnes before her judge, the death of St. Agnes, and St. Anges triumphant in Heaven.
On July 2, 1973 Fr. John Spriggs, C.S.Sp., a Holy Ghost priest, came to St. Agnes as associate pastor. He worked very closely for the next decade with Msgr. Gillespie. Together these two men continued to build a rich Catholic tradition at St. Agnes. Fr. Spriggs lovingly nursed Msgr. Gillespie as Msgr. aged until he was called to his eternal reward on May 30, 1982.
Fr. Spriggs served as administrator of St. Agnes from June 1982 until he was appointed as the 4th pastor on July 1, 1983. In June 1982, Fr. Spriggs, as administrator of the parish, proposed a chapel be made in the altar servers' sacristy behind the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in memory of Msgr. Gillespie. The room was completely refurbished and equipped with a movable altar and chairs with kneelers so that daily Mass may be celebrated there. This room also houses memorabilia of Msgr. Gillespie. The chapel was blessed in October 1982 by Bishop Stanley Ott.
Fr. Spriggs blessed St. Agnes with his presence during his 22 years here. He helped to create an oasis of strong tradtional Catholicism amid the post-Vatican II era. He established the Legion of Mary in Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes. Fr. Spriggs was instrumental in chartering a council of the Knights of Columbus in the parish in May 1991. He served the council as its chaplain. The sincere piety possessed by Fr. Spriggs was instrumental in Mother Teresa agreeing to establish a mission staffed by her sisters here at St. Agnes on June 27, 1985.
The history of St. Agnes is deeply enmeshed with the lives of several very holy men: Fr. Edward Rombouts, Msgr. Lucien Caillouet, Msgr. Patrick Gillespie, Fr. John Spriggs, C.S.Sp., Msgr. Robert H. Berggreen, and currently Fr. Joseph Camilleri. The aura these special men created lives in the daily lives of all the parishioners who have been touched by these pious, gentle priests. With a deep humility the present parishioners are grateful for the rich history created by the special clergy (including the Dominican Sisters and the Missionaries of Charity) who have served the parish. These parishioners look forward to many more years of helping to spread the news of our Risen Christ.