St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church was first built at its location in 1850 as a wooden structure. This original structure was the culmination of about 30 years of devoted efforts of Catholics in the Plaquemine area to establish their own church parish with permission of the diocese of New Orleans which at that time had jurisdiction. On November 7, 1850 Archbishop Blanc finally declared St. John the Evangelist Parish.
Fr. Abbe Mouret from St. Gabriel was assigned as the parish’s first priest. He enthusiastically began catechism and administering the sacraments. Upon his untimely death to yellow fever, Fr. Chambost was St. John’s next priest. He established the first Catholic school in Plaquemine in 1853, and then organized the College of the Immaculate Conception for both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sciences for boys. In 1857, he established a school for girls taught by Sisters Marianites of Holy Cross from New Orleans. Tragically fire broke out and destroyed not only the college but the wooden church as well. Under the burden of debt for those structures, parishioners were reluctant to participate in rebuilding at this time. Fr. Francis Follot was assigned to St. John in 1858 to tackle a difficult situation. He held mass in the small convent, a private residence, in the parish courthouse. In the meantime a new church was built but sold at auction to the builder due to the inability of the parishioners to pay for it. Through a special collection in the diocese, the church was purchased by the diocese and Plaquemine parishioners obliged to pay the diocese back. Despite the church building situation, the Catholic school for girls thrived after the war and was renamed St. Basil’s Academy in 1865.
Fortunately better times spiritually were ahead for St. John the Evangelist Parish after the War Between the States. Fr, Mathurin Harnais was assigned and was a priest of great determination and selflessness for the Lord’s work. His great interest was in Catholic education and established St. Augustine’s as well as re-establishing St. John School for boys in the church rectory. He formed the St. John’s Catholic School Association on December 22, 1892 to ensure the maintenance of the three schools. Through his dedication, support from the congregation revived and the church building renovated. Fr. Harnais conducted a triduum each year and also held missions. These spiritual exercises greatly revived the faith and spirit of piety. In addition, the Ladies Altar Society, Children of Mary, Catholic Knights of America, St. Joseph Benevolent Society for the Colored, and Knights of Columbus were established. One other important event happened under Fr. Harnais. The property of the church was deeded over to the parish corporation, The Congregation of Saint John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Under the leadership of Fr. Gerard Bosch who became St. John’s pastor in 1909, funding for a new church began since the church had been structurally damaged by the construction of the Plaquemine locks as well as storms. In 1927, the current brick and stone structure was completed and represents “Romanesque Royal” architecture designed by New Orleans architect, Albert Bendernagel.
The front of the church is an imposing structure with a rose stained glass window flanked by a statue of St. John the Evangelist and St. Louis, King of France who is the patron of the Archdiocese of New Orleans to which the area belonged when the church was constructed. The rose window incorporates ten inner and ten outer petals representing the Holy Spirit and the nine choirs of angels. Passing through the massive oak doors with the inscription in marble from Genesis 28:17, Non est hic aliud nisi domus Dei et porta coeli (“This is nothing else but the house of God and the gateway to heaven”), we enter the church’s interior with its 172′ long center aisle. At the end of the aisle flanked by columns is the apse with an altar framed by a marble and cast stone baldachino on which is seen a verse from Malachi 1:11,Offertur nomini meo oblatio munda (“and everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, a pure offering”).
Today St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church is fondly called the “cathedral on the bayou” and is rich in history, tradition and memories of several generations of families having been baptized and received many of the church’s other sacraments in their lifetimes.