"There are two priests in New Orleans, [Capuchin Father Boyer] and a missionary, who hears confession from the Ursulines, the hospital and the garrison. […] There are also two friars. Two [Jesuit] missions are located among the savages, 150 leagues from the town and from each other."
Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed.), Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791, The Surrows Brothers Company, Cleveland, 1900, Lettre dun Père au Général des Jésuites, t. 69 (1738).


In the 18th century, the duty to spread the word of God accompanied colonialism in all its forms. For Louis XIV and Louis XV, the American colonies were the sole reserve of the Catholic religion—Protestants and Jews were excluded.

The prohibition of Protestants and Jews in the preamble to the Code Noir of 1724
CAOM, A 23, f° 50 The prohibition of Protestants and Jews in the preamble to the Code Noir of 1724
CAOM, A 23, f° 50
  The prohibition of Protestants and Jews in the preamble to the Code Noir of 1724
CAOM, A 23, f° 50

Despite this, Louisiana did not become heavily Catholic, like New France. For one thing, nearly half of the residents were slaves, and for another the piety of the Louisiana French fell well short of that of the Canadians who had arrived a century earlier. The rivalry between Jesuits and the Missions Etrangères—and later the Capuchins—hampered evangelization efforts among the Indians and religious practices in general. Finally, the massive and brutal use of slavery did not encourage the spread of the Catholic religion.

Louis Boullogne, Missionary preaching to the Indians,
Musée du Louvre, © RMN
Louis Boullogne, Missionary preaching to the Indians,
Musée du Louvre, © RMN

As soon as they arrived, between 1723 and 1726, the religious orders divided up duites: Capuchins in town, Jesuits in missions, Ursulines in the hospitals and chaplains in the confessionals. They often served as mediators.

Dumont de Montigny, The Jesuit Convent in New Orleans, ca. 1735.
AN, CP, N III Louisiane 1/1 (détail) Thus they baptized many mixed-race children, built schools and, thanks to their knowledge of the native languages, negotiated peace treaties with the Indians. The task was not an easy one: when he arrived in 1723, the first Capuchin priest, Father Raphael, said mass for a mere thirty individuals.

Dumont de Montigny, The Jesuit Convent in New Orleans, ca. 1735.
AN, CP, N III Louisiane 1/1 (détail)



Foundation of a boys school: Letter from Capuchin father Raguet, September 15, 1725
CAOM, C13A 8,  f° 410 Foundation of a boys school: Letter from Capuchin father Raguet, September 15, 1725
CAOM, C13A 8,  f° 410
  Foundation of a boys school: Letter from Capuchin father Raguet, September 15, 1725
CAOM, C13A 8, f° 410

A few years later, for lack of pupils, he was forced the close the school he had started. Because of their tireless missionary efforts, the Jesuits received the greatest support from governor Bienville.

Letter from Père de Beaubois, Jesuit Superior in Louisiana, May 6, 1728
CAOM, C13A 11, f° 256 . The order was secularized in 1762 and forced to return to France in 1764, leaving the entire colony in the hands of about ten Capuchins. The perseverance of the Ursulines, the arrival of the Acadians-good, solid Christians-and the seizure of power by the Spanish (New Orleans became a diocese in 1793, improved religious conditions significantly, if only for a short time.
Letter from Père de Beaubois, Jesuit Superior in Louisiana, May 6, 1728
CAOM, C13A 11, f° 256


Broutin,
the second Ursuline convent in New Orleans in 1745
CAOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3 290/25
Broutin,
the second Ursuline convent in New Orleans in 1745
CAOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3 290/25