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GMA Dave Trips: The sleeping history of Rayne’s St. Joseph Cemetery

Posted: 8:27 AM, Aug 10, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-22 11:23:21-04

Rayne is famous for its frogs and frog murals. Once a small settlement, The community was relocated in order to be closer to the railroad that was coming through. Priests traveled through these communities not served by a church.

“A family may not have seen a priest for years. They would baptize, they would marry, they would bury all at the same time.”

St. Joseph Catholic Church had been moved from the original Pouppeville community. Charles Sidney Stutes says back then moving a church wasn’t an easy task.

“The Bishop called it a gospel wagon. In a sense, that they had the logs and the oxen and as they rolled through town it took an extremely long time to get the church here. And in the tower is the original Pouppeville Church bell.

It says Pouppeville Louisiana 1880 which is when they moved the church here and it still rings today.”

Pouppeville Bell Rayne Louisiana
The Pouppeville Bell at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Rayne, Louisiana

The cemetery sits just south of the Church. At first glance, you wouldn’t notice anything unusual. If you didn’t know, most Christian burial sites place the body in an east-west orientation. So when Christ returns, those rising from the dead will be facing east. St. Joseph’s Cemetery has a north-south orientation. There are several theories of why this happened, but nobody knows for sure. It even caught the attention on Ripley’s Believe it or Not at one time.

St. Joseph Cemetery plots
St Joseph Cemetery aerial view / Courtesy Google Maps

“The early burials here were done in the ground. A lot of the crypts you see here were just built over them. There was no effort to change once it got started.”

And the names tell the rich history of Rayne and Louisiana.

“George Clinton Mouton was the son of Alexander Mouton who was the Governor of Lousiana,” explains Stutes. “When you go through some of these you will find the first settlers of Rayne and whatever.”

As these cemeteries age, families members pass on or move away. Some burial spots have gone untouched for decades. Mayor Chuck Robichaux knows it means too much to the community to let go.

“There’s so much history that you don’t realize, you could probably spend weeks or months walking through here and stumble across a family member or someone here that no one’s ever heard of in our era that is a big part of why we’re here!”

Most burials today incorporate the cost of maintenance.

“This church, as old as it is, as long as it’s been here, is trying to incorporate these things, but it’s kinda after the fact,” says Robichaux. “And its very hard to get people to pay for things that was never agreed upon when they bought the plot.”

A partnership with the Church paying for materials to renovate the graves, public works to help drainage on the city’s land that surrounds the cemetery, and the Rayne Police department using it’s resources for labor. He’s love to see others in the community volunteer as well.

“And then we need to get the schools, involved and make it part of an outing, and spend a little time and help take care of the graveyard and a little community pride and a little community service.”

Mayor Robichaux says the end result of this community involvement and care will be a beautiful cemetery where the elderly or handicapped can visit their loved ones. Robichaux hopes that they continue the DOC program through the police department and maintain the cemetery on a yearly base.

It keeps the city beautiful, allows the community to relive history, but honors those here.

“When someone dies, it’s a sad moment, but to preserve their memory though taking care of their last resting place, the real creative history is right here in these old cement tombs,” says Robichaux.

Mayor Robichaux says anyone interested in donating materials or helping out with labor can contact the mayor’s office at the City of Rayne’s website or by calling 337-334-3121.