Holy Trinity Catholic Church: History
Reverend John Pierre (1856-1873)
Father John Pierre, pastor of the Catholic church at Bayou Pierre, DeSoto Parish, began regular visits to Shreveport in 1855 and made efforts to search out the scattered Catholics living in the area. In a letter to Most Reverend Augustus M. Martin, first Bishop of Natchitoches, Father Pierre said that he had visited the settlement of Shreveport on the Red River and that he thought is advisable to relocate to that place. Father Pierre's foresight was remarkable. Even then he relized that the prospects were much brighter for the establishment of a parish on the Red River than it was on Bayou Pierre. It was in March 1856 that Bishop Martin authorized Father Pierre to take up his residence at Shreveport and endeavor to build a church there. Father John Pierre was born Jean Perec or Perez in Brittany, France. He was a seminarian for the Diocese of St. Brieue when he met Bishop Martin. Martin was traveling in France to recruit clergy for service in the Diocese of Natchitoches. Pierre responded to the call to serve the American missions and returned to Natchitoches in 1854 with Bishop Martin. He completed his studies for the priesthood and was ordained at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches on September 22nd, 1855. That same day Martin established the first new parish of the diocese, Holy Apostles, in Bayou Pierre, DeSoto Parish, and assigned Pierre as the first pastor.
The First Church
Many difficulties confronted the young priest. Father Pierre found a few families in the community who were Catholic, mostly Irish, German and Italian immigrants. Due to lack of care, they had grown indifferent to their religion. Father Pierre was not easily discouraged. He was the true apostle and began to work of reclaiming the lost children of the Holy Mother Church. The Diocese of Natchitoches had few resources to spare, and many Catholics were also of modest means. To make a living Pierre hired himself out as tutor to children of prominent non-Catholic families. How he had mastered the English language is not known, but apparrently he and his successor, Father Joseph Gentille, had applied themselves with zeal once they arrived in the Natchitoches Diocese. It was 1857 before Father Pierre could raise enough money to build a little frame church on a site near the corner of Milam and McNeil Streets. No known picture exists for this first church, nor a detailed description of it, but it did not satisfy the good Father for long.
The Second Church
Father Pierre wrote to Bishop Martin on May 17th, 1857:
“I have purchased the land to build the church.... Just after the sale I received a letter from Mrs. Vance who told me that she would offer 500 dollars to the Church... her sister 100, her grandmother 50, all to be paid in January... She ardently desires to see a church in Shreveport.”
Caddo Parish property records show that on this date Pierre purchased two lots near the northeast corner of Marshall and Fannin Streets for the sum of $900. Pierre's letter does nothing further to identify the generouse benefactor. However, sacramental registers record that on January 1st, 1859, Father Pierre baptized and served as godfather to Sara Eliza, the daughter of Mrs. Mary Gilmer Vance and Mr. S.W. Vance. By 1858 Father Pierre had plans and most of the money to build a brick church 60 by 40 feet and to equip it. This second church was erected on Fannin Street where the present church stands. A picture of this modest but attractive building still exist. In February 1859 Father Pierre purchased the corner lot to the south of the church for $1000. This is the location of the present rectory.
With the coming of the Civil War, Shreveport attained prominence as a commercial center for north Louisiana, East Texas and parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma. From 1863 to 1865 Shreveport served as state capital and headquarters of the Trans-Misssissippi District of the Confederacy. As a result of nearby fighting, refugees crowded into the town. Father Pierre was generous in his ministry to the soldiers and others who had been displaced.
In 1860 Shreveport's population was 2,190. By 1870 it had more than doubled. An 1869 report, “State of the Diocese of Natchitoches”, compiled by Bishop Martin gave a Catholic population of 1000 individuals for Holy Trinity parish and its chapels and station at Keatchie, Minden, Bellevue, Spanishtown, St. Vincent and O'Neills.
St. Mary's School (1860-1954)
Providing the opportunity for Catholic education has been a priority of the Catholic Church. Holy Trinity Parish was no exception to this goal. Father John Pierre and some Catholic laymen opened Trinity School for boys in the early years of the parish. It was located on the site of the present church.
Father Pierre was not satisfied with this effort but wanted to offer instruction to the young women of the parish also. In 1860 he made a special appeal to the Daughters of the Cross at their convent in Avoyelles Parish asking that serveral sisters be sent as soon as possible to begin a girl's school at Holy Trinity. He assured them that a satisfactory building would be available as school and convent.
On November 30th, 1860, St. Mary's Convent opened its doors to a large number of pupils of every religious denomination. Father Pierre sold four lots north of the present church to the Daughters of the Cross in 1861 for St. Mary's School and Convent. St. Mary's no longer exist, but many will remember that for some years it was an outstanding school. It became a boarding school and included a high school course as well as all the amenities associated with convent schools.
In 1888 a new building was constructed. Due to the shift of population to other parts of the city, St. Mary closed in 1954 and was demolished a year later. The closure coincided with the opening of two new schools, St. Theresa in Shreveport and Christ the King in Bossier City. Although the building underwent extensive remodeling in 1942, it lacked many of the features essential to a modern educational structure. Enrollment in the final class was 160 individuals. The lot where St. Mary's stood have been a parking lot for many years and were recently sold to Holy Trinity parish.
Yellow Fever Epidemic (1873)
The dreaded disease, yellow fever, had struck Shreveport twice before the year 1873, and Father Pierre had proved himself to be a model of charity and sacrifice in ministering the sick. The worst yellow fever epidemic to be experienced in Shreveport appeared in mid-August 1873 and lasted through mid-November. One-third of area residents may have fled before quarantines were enforced. Total cases numbered somewhere between 2600 and 3000 with 759 deaths. Five priests and two religious sisters died while caring for those who were ill. One of the priests was Father John Pierre.
Father Joseph Gentille record the following in his diary: