June 10, 2002 - "Oldest Church in Louisiana"

You might think that you would have to drive to Natchitoches or New Orleans to visit the oldest church in Louisiana, but it's right here in your back yard.

On the River Road in St. Gabriel stands a piece of living Louisiana history. This is the church erected by the area's first Acadian settlers. They started work on it in November of 1774, a year-and-a-half before the declaration of independence. On July 7, 1776, just three days after the declaration, the folks in St. Gabriel wrote the governor, "The church is nearly complete, and it's beautiful!"

Two-and-a-quarter centuries later it's still here, still beautiful and the oldest church in the Mississippi valley still standing.

The historic church holds special significance for Eugene LeBlanc, who recalls, "What I remember about it is going to midnight mass here and making my confirmation here in this building. There was talk about tearing it down back in those days. There was talk that it wasn't worth the money to keep it going. "

LeBlanc has been called the keeper of the flame. He proudly shows off those 200-year-old beams and the original floorboards of the church which represents

a settlement's faith predating the birth of its nation.

The St. Gabriel Church was used for worship until 1953. Parishioners now hope to restore it as a community building.