It all started with a simple sketch of church property. St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church pastor Celestin Chambon sent a note and a small sketch to His Grace James H. Blenk, Archbishop of New Orleans.
Several months before, Fr. Chambon exchanged parishes with Fr. Louis Laroche. Chambon had been instructed by Blenk to establish a parochial school for the religious education of St. Anthony parish’s children. By the end of December Chambon had begun the ground work for the new school.
“The old High School of Eunice is to be sold next Saturday,” he wrote Blenk in aDecember 31, 1910 letter. “This is a solid wood frame building, 30’ x 30’, two stories high, and could be easily turned into a Catholic School with some repairs.” He included in his letter a sketch of the church property and the proposed site of the new school. Chambon explained to Blenk that it would cost $1,200 to purchase the building. But the church was slightly in debt, so loans would have to be acquired to help finance the new school. Chambon would have to arrange financing through some of the local banks. But Chambon ran into a problem. The parish school board was offering conditions on the sale of the building that Chambon felt were not favorable to the parish. One of St. Anthony’s first trustees, Theogene Reed, however, stepped forward and bought the “old school house.” He offered to roll the building to the church grounds and make the necessary repairs.
The new school building would be situated on a 300’ x 300’ lot behind the church. Next to the school building was a two-story building which Chambon felt could be converted into a residence for six sisters, should the Marianites of the Holy Cross come to Eunice.
On June 5, 1911, Chambon and Blenk signed a resolution purchasing in the name of the Congregation of the Roman Catholics of St. Anthony of Padua Church the house and property adjoining the northeastern part of the church grounds for a sum of $2,000. Chambon borrowed $8,000 from the Wiegman Bank of Amsterdam Holland at five percent interest to fund the new school. He paid Reed $1,350 for the new building, made $1,000 in repairs to the building, and purchased the convent building for $1,600 from the Eunice Homestead Association.
Once the Convent and the school building were complete, Fr. Chambon applied to the Marianites Sisters of the Holy Cross for teachers for Eunice’s new Catholic school. Chambon and the order’s Provincial in New Orleans signed a contract agreeing that the Marianite sisters would open a mission in Eunice and teach at the new school. Archbishop Blenk approved of the contract between Chambon and Mother Mary of St. Raphael.
On August 30, 1911, a small group of Marianite nuns arrived in Eunice and were welcomed at the train station by Chambon and several prominent citizens. On September 4, 1911, St. Paul’s Institute opened its doors for the first time with112 pupils enrolled.
Most students came by horse and buggy or by foot. Only a few students came by automobiles. The students wore white blouses and navy blue skirts, and all had to wear academic caps and tassels. The boys had class on the bottom floor of the building, while the girls meet for class in the second floor classrooms.
There were no water fountains in the early days and no janitor to keep the school clean. The students drank from one of two water faucets in the yard and all the students took turns cleaning up in the afternoons after school.
Students who lived near the school were allowed to go home for a hot lunch at noon. Others brought their lunches in syrup or lard buckets.
A pavilion was erected in 1911 and an aisle added to the school. St. Anthony Church added fences and sidewalks to complete the school plant.
Sr. Mary of St. Albert was appointed principal of the new Catholic School, and she and four other Marianites sisters taught at the school for a monthly salary of $25. One line of their contract included a special mandate from the Archbishop to dedicate at least seventy five minutes a week to teaching music with church music receiving special attention. The sisters were also instructed to receive boarders at the convent.
“After four years of progressive development, the parochial school of Eunice, Louisiana has been turned over to the people of the parish and its administration was turned over to a board of Catholic gentlemen appointed by the rector,” stated the minutes of the New Church Association in December of 1915.
Fr. Chambon was assigned to Donaldsonville in 1916. Rev. Frederick Bosch replaced Chambon as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua.
Much of Bosch’s work was with the church during his two years at St. Anthony. In
1918, he offered his services as a military chaplain. He resigned his parish and was told to report to Camp Beauregard to help the war effort.
On February 8, 1918, Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard appointed Fr. Edmund Daull as pastor of St. Anthony, and a new, bright era began at Eunice’s Catholic School.
Daull quickly did an assessment of the church finances when he arrived. He found the church still owed 18,000 florins in Dutch currency to the Wiegman Bank of Amsterdam. Fr. Chambon had taken out an $8000 loan (21,000 florins) to open the school. The church was now making semiannual payments of $12.50 each.
Daull also found 209 students enrolled at St. Paul’s Institute. Eighty-seven boys and 122 girls were currently attending class at the school.
In 1920, Bishop Jeanmard made his canonical visitation to St. Anthony Parish. “The school is in a flourishing condition and is filled to capacity,” he wrote in his report. “The Parish is blessed indeed in having such efficient and devoted teachers as the Sisters of the Holy Cross in charge of this school as the future parish depends in a very great measure on this school, it is to be hoped that Pastor and people will spare nothing to meet its growing needs.”
But just as Fr. Daull and the parish were planning an expansion of the school, disaster struck. At 6:05 p.m. on December 15, 1920, as the sisters descended the stairs in theconvent from a spiritual reading assembly, a kerosene oil heater in the Superior’s office exploded.
“... cook came running with a bucket of water; this only aggravated the flames. The room was even with the stairs to the second floor, where the bedrooms were. The ready-made draft brought the fire to a roaring inferno in minutes,” reported Mary Alice Fontenot in a November 1, 1964, Daily World article. “The sisters called for quilts to smother the flames. The Sisters and the boarders escaped with only the clothes on their backs. All the girls had the standard school uniforms of the day -- white middy blouse, navy blue pleated skirt and black sateen bloomers.”
Men and boys rushed to the convent building to fight the fire. But the hose, drawn on a two-wheeled wagon by manpower, had no effect on the flames. The school was saved, but in seven minutes only ashes and the brick pillars were left of the convent.
Fr. Daull was in New Orleans when he received the news of the disaster. He hurried home on the next train to Eunice. Once back in town, he appointed a committee to provide means for the erection of a new convent within six months. But disaster would strike again. The Bank of Eunice failed fifteen days later, and the citizens lost all they had deposited in the bank.
Daull gave up his home for the sisters and moved into one of the classrooms on the second floor of the school building.
As tough as times were, the community of Eunice banded together to build a new home for the sisters.
On June 5, 1921, Bishop Jeanmard returned to Eunice to bless the newly constructed St. Edmund Convent. The Marianite sister had chosen to name the convent in honor of Fr. Edmund Daull, who graciously gave up his home for them. While there are no formal records of the school’s name change from St. Paul’s to St. Edmund, it is assumed that when the sisters changed the name of the convent, the school’s name was changed as well.
Two weeks later, on June 17, 1921, St. Edmund School would graduate its first student ten years after the school had opened its doors for the first time. Louise Hebert Guillory was the school’s first and only graduate that year. She received two diplomas: Academical Course and the Palmer Method. The commencement ceremonies were held in the Liberty Theatre Building, which at the time was located where Bertrand’s Office Supply is today.
The St. Edmund Class of 1925 became the first class to graduate in the present-day St. Anthony Church. Work on the church had been completed the previous year, and it was dedicated in November of 1924.
Three years later, St. Edmund School would become a state-approved high school. “It is very gratifying to me to be able to say that the St. Edmund High School of Eunice has been found to meet all requirements of the law, and since it is deserving of State recognition, that said St. Edmund High School is hereby officially recognized as a four year State approved private high school,” wrote the State High School Inspector to Fr. Daull.
The Mother’s Club, founded after the convent fire, spent $900 for equipment for the library and science department so the school could meet the state’s requirements.
Bishop Jeanmard sent Fr. Daull an official appointment to succeed Msgr. Bollard in Abbeville in June of 1930. Bollard died while on a trip to France. Fr. Baudizzone was assigned to St. Anthony’s from his parish in Welsh.
Baudizzone came into a parish with a bustling school. Enrollment in 1930 was at
280. The pastor had to make a trip to Franklin to bring a number of desks from the parochial school there.
The high school now occupied the entire second floor of the old school building, and by 1932, the school had 291 students enrolled. 1932 also marked the first time that boys were admitted to the high school. So many boys registered in the high school that by 1933, the school formed a boys basketball team and boys’ band.
Fr. Baudizzone became ill in 1933 and died on May 5. Fr. Alphonse Martel would assume the parish, and would usher in a new era for the school.
After the death of Fr. Baudizzone in 1933 at St. Anthony Church, Fr. Alphonse
Martel was moved to Eunice. His assignments were expanded, heading up the parish and the growing school. He would be principal of the high school and teach mathematics, French, and Chemistry.
Fr. Martel arrived at the school with a considerably different past than other priests. After leaving Quebec in the early part of the 20th century, he entered the novitiate of the Augustinian Order. He took his Solemn Vows in 1911 in Rome and was ordained into the priesthood in 1913 in Rome’s Church of the Blessed Trinity. He returned to the United States and began teaching at St. Rita High School in Chicago.
Five years later, he joined a team of scientists working for the U.S. government at Muscle Shoals, a chemical facility built by the United States during World War I. Martel frequently told parishioners that he was one of only a few people authorized to handle certain chemicals in the vault at the facility.
After working as a chemist at the government plant, he moved to the Augustinian House in Havana, Cuba. He stayed in Cuba for six months, returning to America to open a Catholic Boys School in San Diego. In 1926, he was appointed to the Diocese of Lafayette, and arrived in Eunice after a brief stay in Opelousas and Iota. The school welcomed Martel on May 15, 1933.
Twelve days later, St. Edmund would graduate 18 students, nine boys - nine girls. It was the school’s largest graduating class since its doors opened in 1911.
A kindergarten program was added to St. Edmund in 1936 and while the program was successful from the start, after the Christmas holiday, the number of students in the class began to dwindle.
Martel became concerned with the dwindling enrollment of boys in the upper grades as well. “Tom [Verges’] reply to [Martel’s concern] was that if you checked it out, our boys were leaving primarily because of the lack of sports at St. Edmund’s, especially football,” reported Fr. Donald Hebert in his book the History of St. Anthony Parish. After looking into the problem, Martel found that ten former St. Edmund students were on the first string at Eunice High.
Up until 1938, the only sport at St. Edmund was girls’ basketball. But Martel was
about to change that. He asked Tom Verges to look into starting a football program at the school. There were too few boys to play eleven-man ball, but Verges had heard of a new program for smaller schools: six-man football. He called a meeting of small schools in the area, and a six-man football program that would draw students from the high school and elementary school was created.
The team voted to call themselves the Blue Jays. “It was suggested by Tom that the Blue Jay was a fighting bird and very aggressive,” reported Hebert in his book. “Up to this time the girl’s basketball team had been called by various names. From the Eunice New Era newspaper we find mention in 1927 of their name being the Grizzlies; in 1937 they were called the Cardinals; then in 1939 the name for the girls’ team changed to that of the Blue Jays.”
A team was born, and in 1938 they began playing ball. The Blue Jays earned their first victory on Sunday, November 11, 1938, against Rayne. The score was 15-8.
Enrollment at the school was now 208 in the grammar school and 43 in the high school. “The engaging of a coach for the boys and one for the girls is stimulating interest and giving us the hope of teams making a fairly good showing both in the boys’ and girls' departments,” read the sister's chronicle entry of September 11, 1938.
The girls’ basketball did not fail the sisters that year. Coached by Lorita Laughlin,
the team had their best finish since the program started. They finished with an 18-7 record. Laughlin in an interview for Fr. Hebert’s book remembered that year, “Since I graduated [from Eunice High] in 1938, I was available to help with the coaching. The first games were played on a dirt court until a gym was built in December of 1939. The times were hard and it was always a struggle to get equipment and good uniforms.”
J.H. Pecot and Tom Verges started organizing a boxing team in 1938 “which added some prestige to the athletic program,” said Verges in an interview in 1983. Martel soon realized that the basketball teams and now the boxing team needed a new home.
In March of 1939, Msgr. Martel wrote Bishop Jeanmard: “There is a crying need for a new school and gymnasium here in my parish. The present building bought many years ago served as the pubic school and is in an unsafe and antiquated construction, always in need of repairs and dangerous for the children.” Martel went on to ask permission to find a way to construct a new high school. “…It will be necessary very likely to ask Rome's permission, because we have to get enough funds to repay the present indebtedness and build the school. The wood of the old building can be used for the gymnasium. I plan to build a school large enough to accommodate 500 children. We came to a figure of about $30,000 for the school and the gymnasium.”
Work began on the new building on July 10, 1939 at a cost of $18,200. Martel's new
school building would house seven classrooms, a large stage, and would measure over 9,000 square feet, including the courts need for boxing and basketball. Work on the gym was completed in November of that year, and Fr. Martel would dedicate the building on Thanksgiving Day. It would not be until Labor Day of the following year that the building would be blessed by Bishop Jeanmard.
The first basketball game in the new gym was held on December 12, 1939. Eunice High traveled across town, only to lose 20-8 to the Blue Jay girls.
The boxing team at St. Edmund found a new home in the gym, as well. The program had become extremely successful and by 1942, Joe Johnson, a sophomore at St. Edmund, had won the State Boxing Title. The following year, he would win the Golden Glove award in Beaumont, Texas and the Diamond Glove Championship in New Orleans.
On October 27, 1943, Martel declared a holiday for students, so they could participate in a parade for the War Relief Drive. The students wore their school colors and carried their school and Sodality banners.
Sports continued to make an impact on the school. Boxers Charles Bollich and
Johnson won trophies in New Orleans, and the girl's basketball team won their first trophy in the new gym. A trophy case was built in the foyer of the gym to house the school's new trophies.
By 1945 the athletic program was growing, even without coaches. Associate pastor Fr. Jules Jeanmard helped coach the football team, the girls continued to play basketball and the boys organized basketball for the first time without a coach.
“A lot had changed since those early days of football and boxing at St. Edmund’s in 1939. The school was so small that it was not very easy to get a full team,” reported Hebert’s History of St. Anthony Parish. “Once when they fought Vidrine, all the boys had the flu except two or three who went for the boxing event. Because the school was so small, they had to forfeit all bouts from 126 pounds on up. Regulation boxing went from 90 pounds to 165 pounds.”
School shut down two days in the spring of 1945. On April 13, news of the death of President Roosevelt shocked the students. A requiem Mass was said for the repose of his soul. And on May 8, news arrived of the victory in Europe. A Mass of Thanksgiving was held.
Most schools had stopped playing football during the war, so in 1947, J.C Keller reorganized the team after convincing Martel that it could be done. Area merchants contributed $900 to the team to buy equipment.
Because of the way Eunice High had scheduled their games, the Blue Jays had the
honor of being the first team to play at the new Bobcat field.
In 1948, the Mothers’ Club wanted to begin a pep squad for the football team. Mr. Coonie Picou was asked to help put together and train a group of girls. A drum and bugle corps using elementary boys was attempted, but soon the program would revert to an all-girls marching pep squad.
One Sunday in 1948, after finishing the gospel reading, Martel addressed the congregation: “We have a beautiful church. Now we must turn our attention to building a new school. In Lake Charles, through one man’s generosity it is called Landry Memorial. In Franklin there is another such school, Hanson Memorial. Why don’t we have a memorial school here? Why not a Keller, a Guillory, a Wilfert, or a Duplechin Memorial? Every year you give me $3,000 to $4,000 towards the new school. But I want to see this school built. I want it now - not after I am dead. I wish with all my heart that it could be a Martel Memorial, but I haven’t got $50,000.”
But the parishioners liked the name Martel Memorial. Mrs. John Clark brought Martel $2,000 to “start a fund for the Martel Memorial.” She told him that there were other parishioners who felt the same way. “Put me down for the second $2,000,” Martel told Clark.
The newly constructed school opened in 1949 with 470 students. The Bishop
dedicated the building in November of that year. “The Monsignor has added another achievement, the erection and complete outfitting of a model Grade or Elementary school building,” read the sisters’ chronicles entry of December 2, 1949. “Thus the school plant of St. Anthony's church matches any school plant today.”
There were no graduation ceremonies in 1949. The school added an extra grade to the elementary school. High school now began after the eighth grade, and 11th grade students who would have normally left St. Edmund had to stick around for one more year. The class of 1950 became the first class to graduate with 12 grades, and the only class to have two homecoming queens.
In 1951, St. Edmund hired its first full-time coach, Gerald Wyble. He would handle all the sports -- football, girls and boys basketball, boxing and track.
Enrollment figures in 1951 reported the school opening with a little more than 400 students. But, the public school buses were not running yet, and enrollment always increased when students in the country could ride to school on the bus.
The following year, enrollment would continue to grow and would soon become a problem. “Enrollment at St. Edmund’s School nearing capacity,” read a Eunice News headline. “There are 421 students enrolled at St. Edmund’s and Martel Memorial... Applications for the elementary were turned down daily.”
By 1953, the growing size of St. Edmund showed in its graduating class. Twenty-four students were awarded diplomas that year, making the Class of 1953 the largest graduating class in school history.
The schools’ boxing team continued to bring home trophies for the school that year. Gilliam McLane and Matt Johnson won State Championship titles for the Blue Jays, and in 1954 McLane would repeat as state champion. Plans were also being made to move the school into an eleven-man football league.
Health concerns had become a problem for Martel, and in 1955, he asked Bishop Jeanmard to accept his resignation: “It is with regret that I come to worry you with my personal trouble. But it is impossible for me to do my work and I come to ask if you will accept my resignation about 1 January 1956.” Martel was suffering from severe arthritis. Martel begged the Bishop to name his nephew, Jules A. Jeanmard, his successor. The Bishop named Jeanmard to replace Martel.
“Father Martel was a living monument in our time. When Sister Columbkille would banish us from class, we’d spring across the open field to the rectory crying and scared,” said Mrs. Genevieve “Blackie” Guillory in an interview for Fr. Hebert's book about the history of the parish and school. “This marvelous, Canadian man of God would cover up the poker table, sit us down, give us a ‘Grapé’ and tell moron jokes.”