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Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society

Truman Stacey

"Notable Men and Women of SWLA" is result of work compiled by SLHA member Truman Stacey.

A native of Texas,Truman Stacey served in the U.S. Army in World War II, earned bachelor and master degrees from the University of Detroit, and worked on a number of newspapers before serving as editor-in-chief of the Lake Charles American Press from 1961 to 1982, when he became chief information officer for the Catholic Diocese of Lake Charles. 

Stacey wrote the series of articles here to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. These articles appear in numerous newspapers across the state, including the DeQuincy News, the Cameron Pilot, the Teche News, the Welsh Citizen, the American Press, the Ville Platte News, and the Hammond Star.

He is a past president of Southwest Louisiana Historical Association.

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Mother Marie de Saint-Augustin Tranchepain

Marie Tranchepain was born in the Province of Normandy, probably around 1680, into a Hugenot Protestant family. As a young girl, however, she was converted to the Catholic faith and entered the Order of Saint Ursula at Rouen in 1699.

The Ursulines had been founded by Saint Maria Merici in Italy in 1565 as an order of nuns working in the world dedicated to the education of poor girls, and it had been active in France almost from the beginning. It has been called “the oldest and most considerable teaching order in the Roman Catholic Church.”

In 1726 when the Rev. Ignace de Beaubois, Jesuit Superior of Upper Louisiana, arrived in Rouen seeking religious sisters for the new colony of Louisiana, Sister Marie volunteered her services, along with two other Ursuline sisters.

Louisiana at that time was owned by the Company of the Indies, so a contract had to be worked out with the proprietors. This “treaty” was signed by the company and approved by King Louis XIV on Sept. 18, 1726. Father Beaubois sought other recruits for the Louisiana Mission, and the final company consisted of eight nuns, one novice and two postulants. Sister Marie was elected the superior of the group, which sailed for the New World from L’Orient on the ship Gironde on Feb. 22, 1727.

It was five long months before they saw the Mississippi River. The ship, an unwieldy one, ran aground before clearing the harbor, and throughout the voyage the sailors were cursed with contrary winds and several storms, all the nuns becoming seasick. Sheep and chickens brought on board as future food were soon found smothered in the hold and had to be tossed overboard. The nuns were reduced to eating rice, rancid beef and beans cooked in lard.

Mother Marie kept up the courage and the morale of her little flock, especially the postulants, through her kindness and through her demands for proper treatment and respect from the captain and the crew.

Twice the ship was threatened by pirates but escaped unharmed. Nearing the Louisiana coast the ship ran aground twice near Dauphine Island and was worked free only by jettisoning the cannon, barrels of brandy and sugar and other cargo.

Water became so short that the nuns were limited to one pint a day. Finally the ship docked at LaBalize Post at the “head of passes” of the Mississippi River. They rested ashore for one day, and then were loaded into two pirogues and a sloop for the journey upriver to New Orleans, because the ship was sailing back to France.

The nuns sat atop their mattresses and their chests, and the voyage, which was to last nine days, began. Struggling against the strong current of the river, progress was slow. Each night was spent ashore, the nuns on their mattresses, often in mud and briars, and always lanced by clouds of mosquitoes. Twice they endured rainstorms.

It was a bedraggled lot that struggled ashore at the New Orleans wharf at 5 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1727. In that early hour there was no one to greet them and Mother Marie started her brood down the chief street. Father Beaubois was hurriedly summoned and brought them to his residence for breakfast.

Once officialdom had been awakened the nuns were conducted to their quarters, which proved to be the former residence of Governor Bienville. Mother Marie set about with her usual vigor to get the convent organized. A small chapel was set up for the celebration of Mass. She inspected the hospital for the soldiers and ordered a larger one to be built and demanded two servants from the governor for household chores.

She obtained quarters for a school for young girls, which was opened in November. By 1728 she reported the school was instructing 16 girl boarders, seven Negresses and 25 day students. In addition to scholastic subjects, the students were taught to knit, to sew and to mend their own clothing.

Shortly after the nuns arrived in New Orleans the rebellion of the Natchez Indians broke out, and the French garrison was wiped out. A large number of orphans were later rescued and Mother Marie was asked to care for them. She set up an orphanage where the small waifs were cared for without any charge to the Company of the Indies.

The nuns were given a stipend of 500 livres per year for each to free them for their charitable work. Their days were filled with nursing the sick and wounded in the hospital, teaching in the school, caring for the orphans and providing much-needed solace for the often-neglected wives and daughters of the colony.

Because of their long hours of labor and frequent exposure to disease, the nuns were frequently ill. Mother Marie was one of these. Finally, worn out by her labors and responsibilities, she died on Nov. 11, 1734. The entire officialdom of the colony, including the Regiment of Louisiana, attended the funeral Mass.

By her vigilance, courage and farsightedness she was able to shepherd her flock through the dangers and hardships of that era when most of Louisiana was still an untamed wilderness.

Her legacy was the first convent of religious women to be established within the territory of what is now the United States, and the hundreds of Louisiana students who were educated by her nuns and their successors.

APPENDIX

These were the nuns who sailed from L’Orient to New Orleans:

  • Mother Marie de Saint Augustin Tranchepain of Rouen.
  • Sister Jude de Saint Jean l’Evangeliste of Rouen.
  • Sister Marie Anne Boulenger de Sainte Angelique of Rouen.
  • Sister Marie de Mahieu de Saint Francois Xavier of LaHavre.
  • Sister Renee Guiquel de Saint Marie of Vannes.
  • Sister Cecile Cavalier de Saint Joseph of Elboeuf.
  • Sister Marie Ann Dain de Sainte Marthe of Hennebon.
  • Sister Marguerite de Salaon de Sainte Therese of Ploermel.
  • Novice Marie Madeline Hacard de Saint Stanislaus of Rouen.
  • Postulant Claudine Massey (no town listed).
  • Postulant Anne Marie (no town listed).
  • (Plus two servants).