In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, the LSU Libraries Special Collections presents “Practicing Catholics: Finding Faith in Family Papers,” a display that features letters, documents, photographs, and ephemera drawn from the papers of Baton Rouge area Catholic families from the early 1800s through the 20th century. The exhibition opens October 31st and continues through December 17th.
The selected items illustrate family members’ religious practice, efforts to continue to observe the faith during the Civil War, and participation in their church communities and involvement in Catholic schools. In addition, the exhibition includes materials related to St. Joseph’s Church (later St. Joseph’s Cathedral) and clergy who served there.
“Our collections document the history and culture of Louisiana and the Lower Mississippi Valley. Certainly the Catholic Church and the role it has played in lives of people in this region are an important part of that history, so it seemed fitting that we highlight these holdings as the diocese commemorates its founding,” said Interim Head of Special Collections Tara Zachary Laver, who curated the exhibit.
The earliest document displayed is an 1804 certificate of baptism for Theresa Allemand, who was baptized in Donaldsonville. Prayer books and prayer cards from the Raphael Hebert family of Plaquemine and Brusly, some in French and dating from 1835 to 1934, are included. An 1861 letter records the determination of a young woman to practice the Catholic faith despite her family’s opposition. In another Civil War era letter, a Baton Rouge soldier describes his unit’s efforts to construct a make-shift chapel in Virginia, where he was encamped. Several photographs of children dressed for their first communion or confirmation are shown, including three generations of the related Gebelin, Walsh, Hynes, and Frenzel families, and two members of the Dudley Turnbull family, who descended from a Baton Rouge family of free persons of color. Service to the Church and Catholic schools and the involvement of the laity, particularly women, in the mid-20th century is represented by selected papers of Ann Wilbert Arbour and by artifacts found in the papers of Rowena Sceroler Flynn and Loretta Sceroler Meaney. The latter include miniature versions of vestments, which members of the Council of Catholic Women used to educate parishioners in rural and missionary churches throughout the diocese about traditions and symbolism related to the liturgy and other practices.
In addition to the focus on families and individuals, the exhibition features materials related to the parish of St. Joseph’s in Baton Rouge. Among these are accounts with a Baton Rouge craftsman for painting and graining architectural features of the church in the 1850s, receipts for pew rent in the 1860s and 1870s, a 1905 photograph of the building, photographs of and ephemera related to past rectors and bishops, and drawings by John Desmond, the architect who oversaw the 1970s renovation of the cathedral.