DID YOU KNOW…
As the seat of the Diocese of Lake Charles, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a spiritual symbol for over 24,000 Catholic families. However, it is also a symbol of history and architectural design for generations of Louisianans.
Early Catholics of southwest Louisiana were served, at first, in various homes by visiting priests from the Diocese of Galveston. Later priests began to come east from Opelousas and the area was a mission of St. Landry Catholic Church. By 1858, property was purchased on Ryan Street across from the courthouse and a small church building was dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. After the Civil War, the church became a mission of St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Abbeville. In 1869 with the Catholic population having grown to such a number, The Most Reverend Jean Marie Odin, Archbishop of New Orleans established the canonical parish of St. Francis de Sales, which covered what had become known as the civil jurisdiction of Imperial Calcasieu Parish.
Following the devastation and death from a Yellow Fever epidemic, a new church building was constructed, which was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on October 2, 1881. Growth continued at a slow and steady pace with a succession of pastors for the far-flung parish.
On April 23, 1910, the city of Lake Charles was devastated by a fire that destroyed 109 buildings including Immaculate Conception Church, its rectory, the boys and girls Catholic schools, and the convent of the Sisters Marianites of Holy Cross.
After the shock of the horrific losses waned, parish leaders chartered construction for a new building that was dedicated on December 18, 1913. The church was designed by the architectural firm of Favrot & Livaudais of New Orleans and is of a Lombardy Romanesque architectural style.
In addition to Immaculate Conception Parish, Favrot & Livaudais also designed other buildings in the diocese including the Calcasieu Marine Bank (840 Ryan St.) and Calcasieu Parish Courthouse (Ryan St. at Kirby St.) both in Lake Charles and the Strand Theatre (432 N. Main St.) in Jennings. All four buildings are listed on U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Although buildings owned by religious organizations are typically excluded from being listed in the registry, an exception was made for Immaculate Conception because of distinctive characteristics of its architecture and construction and having great artistic value. The Cathedral was added to the National Register on October 7, 1994.
When Pope John Paul II established the Diocese of Lake Charles on January 29, 1980, the Church of the Immaculate Conception became our cathedral. The Cathedral enshrines a century old image of the Blessed Virgin Mary made of Carrara marble. The venerated image of Our Lady is located in a high niche above the main altar. Pope Benedict XVI had approved the rite of crowning in 2012 at Bishop Provost’s request. This crowning made the Cathedral one of only two such “crowned” image of the Virgin Mary in the state of Louisiana –the state patronal image of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans is the other.
Although designed to be used only as a parish church, it has filled the role of cathedral for this diocese for over 35 years. Unlike churches and chapels, which are broad terms referring both to the worship space in an architectural sense as well as the congregation as a collective group of people meeting within the church building, cathedrals fulfill a specific role within the Catholic faith. Named for the “bishop’s seat” (cathedra), a cathedral is the designated the principal church within a Vatican-specified geographic area, a diocese. In addition to being the bishop’s church site, the cathedral also serves as the central church for the entire diocese and acts as the bureaucratic center for the diocesan administration.