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Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, June 24, 1997

Fight with trustees helped start Abbeville

by Jim Bradshaw

The town of Abbeville owes its existence indirectly to a fight between the feisty pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church (now cathedral) in Lafayette and stubborn parishioners who refused to budge until he closed the church.

The pastor was Father Antoine Desire Megret, who was born May 23, 1797, in Abbeville, France. The Capuchin missionary came to Louisiana in 1842 and was sent to Vermilionville (now Lafayette), where he inherited a fight that had been going on between the old pastor and the parishioners. Father Megret finished the fight.

It was customary at that time for many church parishes to be managed by boards of trustees (wardens) who represented the civil corporation of the parish. In French Louisiana these trustees were called Marguilliers. They were members of the congregation elected to oversee the operations of the church. The qualifications required only that the congregant be at least 25 years of age, married, and a property holder. Piety was not a prerequisite. It was also not required that they get along with the pastor, and in Lafayette they did not.

The Marguilliers regarded themselves as the masters of the church and the pastor as their hired hand. They had refused to pay the old pastor's salary and were at their height of power and arrogance when Father Megret arrived.

Father Megret set things straight. He told them that he was not subject to their whim, that his boss was the bishop. And he told them to get off the high horse or he would close their church and build himself a new one. Then he started a newspaper, L'Avenir, to hammer back at his detractors who were using the existing newspaper to malign him.

In March 1843, Father Megret wrote to the bishop that "hell seems to be let loose." Matters came to a head when a local tough guy, hired by the Marguilliers, "hurling foul and slanderous insults at him," attacked Father Megret on the street and beat him up. There were other people on the street, but none stopped the beating. The chairman of the board of trustees was a little way down the street "in the midst of a group laughing to his heart's content." The chairman also was the sheriff, but didn't stop the fight.

Father Megret closed the church and began to build one in Abbeville. When he refused to say Mass in Vermilionville, the congregation entered the fray. They elected new trustees. The Marguilliers refused to accept the election and called for a new one. Nobody came to vote.

Father Megret had won. He began saying Mass again in Lafayette .... but also at La Chapelle the chapel he had built, partly because of his fight with the obnoxious trustees.

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