A Brief History of St. Joseph Catholic Church
The church of St. Joseph came into existence in 1872 under the pastorship of Most Rev. Napoleon J. Perche, third Archbishop of New Orleans (1870 – 1883).
The first church under the pastorship of St. Joseph was built on a ridge between the two settlements of Pouppeville and Castille on the Valsin LeBlanc plantation.
In 1872, Fr. Joseph Anthonioz, S.J., a widely known and devoted missionary became the first pastor, serving concurrently Church Point and Mermentau. With the coming of the newly-built Southern Pacific Railroad, the present town of Rayne was growing fast. In 1880, Fr. Anthonioz had the church raised on its foundation. Placing wooden wheels under it, rounded up 120 well yoked oxen and the one mile trek began. It took weeks before the church finally came to rest on its present location, a property formerly bought by the Jesuits.
After the death of Fr. Anthonioz, the Jesuit fathers turned over the parish of St. Joseph to the Archdiocese, and Most Rev. Francis Janssens, fifth Archbishop of New Orleans, appointed Fr. Blaise Branche second pastor of St. Joseph’s. Two years after his arrival in Rayne, Fr. Branche undertook the building of the present rectory (1894). In 1899, Fr. Branche had a new church built (the second church) at a cost of $5,524.
Fr. Amable Doutre served as the third pastor of St. Joseph’s. Under his guidance, Mt. Carmel Academy progressed. By 1912, it was offering high school courses and in 1917 Alma Duclos became Mt. Carmel’s first graduate.
In 1923, Fr. Hubert Lerschen arrived in Louisiana. One of his first moves on becoming the fourth pastor was to seek permission to take over the school directed by the Sisters of Mt. Carmel. Mother Clare, Superior General of the Sisters of Mt. Carmel, gave permission that St. Joseph Parish take over Mount Carmel Academy. On August 1, 1929, the parish acquired the property from the Sisters and Mount Carmel Academy became St. Joseph High School. The State Department of Education accredited St. Joseph School in 1930 as a Junior High and two years later gave accreditation as a Senior High.
During Msgr. Lerschen’s pastorate, a third church was built in 1952, the beautiful imposing edifice which now serves the people of God of St. Joseph’s.
In 1963, Fr. Emery Labbe became the fifth pastor. Under Fr. Labbe’s pastorate, upon recommendation by the Diocesan Department of Education, the Catholic high schools of Acadia Parish were consolidated. St. Joseph, Rayne; St. Francis, Iota; and St. Michael’s, Crowley, consolidated in 1967 to become Notre Dame High School located in Crowley. As a result, St. Joseph became strictly an elementary unit. In 1971, St. Joseph and Our Mother of Mercy schools paired, and St. Joseph’s changed its name to Rayne Catholic Elementary.