Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gaines M. Foster


During the early eighteenth century, Capuchin missionaries as well as Ursuline nuns built and maintained churches and schools for all people in south Louisiana, no matter their race or social status. Under French and Spanish colonial rule, black Catholics supported all efforts towards interracial worship. After 1803, the diocese's inclusive practices continued. By 1861 proselytization of large numbers of free people of color and slaves resulted in Catholic congregations with roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites. When parishes were officially created in 1861, they had an integrated membership. Interracial parishes survived the traumas of the Civil War and persisted until 1920 because the Catholic Church ministered to all races while other denominations excluded blacks. The use of the French language united congregations at a time when the use of English prevailed in society. The rough balance between blacks and whites also prevented racial supremacy. But the system had problems. Irish and German Catholics built exclusive "national" parishes and did not participate in the archdiocese's interracial "territorial" parishes. All parishes maintained segregated schools. In addition, national church authorities tried to link the availability of money to the creation of racially segregated parishes. In 1895, an archbishop built the diocese's first exclusively black church. After 1900, as the interracial congregations divided along racial lines, dark-skinned Sicilians replaced the former free people of color as the "inbetween" group in Louisiana's racial system. Blacks and whites struggled for resources to fund schools, and the common bond provided by the French language disappeared as almost all church services were conducted in English. The racial balance within congregations also changed as African Americans migrated out of Louisiana. By 1915, black Catholics had been forced out of parish churches and schools for blacks were closed. Only in these desperate years, faced with white supremacy and loss of their religion, did black Catholics support exclusive black parishes and, in particular, parochial schools. By 1920, resistance to separate racial parishes ended.