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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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Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus

It fell to Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus, a Spanish Franciscan friar, to establish the first church in what is now the state of Louisiana.

Fray Antonio spent many years preaching the Catholic faith in Mexico and Central America before he came to Louisiana to leave his mark on its church history.

He was born in Valencia, Spain, August 16, 1675, and at 15 received the habit of the Order of Friars Minor. In 1674, just before his 17th birthday, he made his profession as a "religious." Continuing his convent studies, he was ordained to the priesthood at age 24.

In 1683 he volunteered for the American missions and in the company of 24 other friars, landed at Vera Cruz, in Mexico, on June 16, and immediately departed for the convent of Santa Cruz in Queretaro, a journey of roughly 125 miles. They walked, of course, because Franciscans never rode a horse or traveled in a cart unless there was a need for speed, or because of illness. They walked barefoot, with only their habit, a staff and a crucifix. The journey took 36 days, because they preached in churches and chapels along the way. With their coming the Convent of Santa Cruz was expanded to become a seminary and college to train missions for the Spanish realms.

For the next 14 years Fray Antonio, in company of one or more of his fellow friars, worked, preached and baptized in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama.

In 1696 he was assigned the task of founding a new missionary seminary and college in Zacatecas to serve northern Mexico and even beyond the Rio Grande River.

Fray Antonio was at Zacatecas when, in 1715, authorities in Mexico City were ordered by the King of Spain to reestablish missions formerly established in East Texas. The King feared that the French were strengthening their holdings in Louisiana, and might try to enter Spanish territory.

Don Diego Ramon was chosen to lead the expedition to reestablish the missions, and friars from the colleges of Queretaro and Zacatecas accompanied the expedition. Arriving in the fall, the Spaniards were greeted with delight by members of the Hasinai Confederacy, whose tribes occupied territory between the Trinity and Red Rivers. Fray Antonio established his first mission on the site of the present city of Nacogdoches, and remained there for nearly a year.

Friendly Indians from the east, meanwhile, had told Diego Ramon that there was a French post nearby on the Red River. He decided to investigate, and Fray Antonio was in the party. They discovered the French had built a stockade on an island in the river, among the Natchitoches tribe. Fray Antonio ordered a cross to be erected on the shore and celebrated a field Mass for the Spanish and the French garrison, which numbered four men.

On the return trip Fray Antonio established the mission of San Miguel de Linares among the Adeas tribe about eight leagues from the French post. The date of the establishment was set at January 15, 1717. This was the fifth mission established among the native tribes, and it was located near the present town of Robeline in Louisiana. A log chapel was built, with a thatched roof, and quarters for the two friars were built. This was the first church building established in what is now the state of Louisiana.

The friars have left us a description of mission life. Each mission was manned by two friars, or a friar and a lay brother. They cleared land for crops, with the help of the Indians. They studied the languages of the natives. They slept outdoors on the ground during the heat of the summer. Later Fray Antonio recalled his days in the Louisiana woods with pleasure. He celebrated Mass, taught the Indians the rudiments of the faith, weaved baskets and cut wood. He went through the woods gathering nuts, probably pecans, to store. In this way he spent his days, weeks and months.

Then France and Spain went to war, and French soldiers put the friars to flight and destroyed the mission chapels. Peace treaties were soon signed, however, and Spain set out to restore their frontier missions.

An expedition was mounted consisting of a battalion of infantry escorting 600 bales of supplies packed on 800 mules. There were also 4000 horses, 600 head of cattle and 900 sheep.

This expedition, the largest the Spaniards had ever sent out, arrived in due course, and all of the missions were reestablished, including San Miguel de Linares.

Spanish officials decided to establish a presidio (government headquarters) also near San Miguel mission. The presidio consisted of a barracks for 100 soldiers and quarters for government officials, surrounded by a stockade. This was the capital of Spanish Texas for the next 60 years.

Fray Antonio superintended his missions until 1722 when he was recalled to Mexico, where he continued his services as head of his college until 1726 when he passed away from fever and exposure in Mexico City.

During his long career he established a chain of 30 Spanish missions extending from Panama to Louisiana. During his stay in East Texas he visited Natchitoches to celebrate Mass and to baptize the young and bury the dead when no French priests were present. His signatures are found among the church documents. He might even be called the first pastor of Natchitoches. In fact, Bernard La Harpe, French chronicler, called him "the chaplain of Natchitoches!"