Alexandria, Diocese of
ALEXANDRIA, DIOCESE OF
(Alexandrinensis ) suffragan of the metropolitan See of New Orleans, was originally established as the Diocese of Natchitoches by Pius IX on July 29, 1853, and at the time covered the parishes (counties) in the northern tier of Louisiana. The see city was transferred to Alexandria, Aug. 6, 1910, and in 1977 it was redesignated as the diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport. When Shreveport became a diocese in 1986, it was again designated as the Diocese of Alexandria.
Missionary Activity. Catholic missionary work in the territory dates from 1682, when the Franciscan Zenobius Membre, chaplain to R. la salle's expedition down the Mississippi River, stopped at the village of the Tensas native tribe, near present-day Newellton, La. The next missionaries in Northern Louisiana were priests from the Seminary of Quebec, Canada, who arrived in the Lower Mississippi Valley in 1699. Francis de Montigny, their superior, took up residence among the Tensas, and in the vicinity of Newellton built what was probably the first chapel within the future Diocese of Alexandria. The oldest town in the diocese and in the entire state originated in 1716 when J. B. le Moyne de Bienville sent a military force to establish Fort St. John the Baptist on an island in the Red River. The settlement became known as "Le Poste de Natchitoches."
In 1853 when Louisiana's second diocese was created from the Archdiocese of new orleans with Natchitoches as its see city, Auguste Marie Martin was named first bishop. At that time the diocese, covering three-fifths of the state, had five priests, six parish churches, about three mission chapels, one school, and 22,000 Catholics. Martin died Sept. 29, 1875, and was succeded by Francis Xavier Leray, who was consecrated April 22, 1877. Two years later he was named coadjutor of New Orleans, but he remained administrator of Natchitoches until 1883 when he became ordinary of New Orleans. His successor was the Bishop Antoine Durier (1885–1904) who in turn was succeeded by Bishop Cornelius Van de Ven (1904–32). In the spring of 1910, Bishop Van de Ven petitioned the Holy See to transfer the see city of the diocese to Alexandria, citing the latter's advantages of better road and railroad communications to all parts of northern Louisiana, and its closer proximity to the large percentage of French Catholics living in the southern part of the diocese.
Bishop Van de Ven's immediate successor was Bishop Daniel F. Desmond (1933–45). Alexandria's next two bishops, Charles P. Greco (1946–73) and Lawrence P. Graves (1973–82) both retired because of age. (Bishop Greco died on Jan. 20, 1987; Bishop Graves, Jan. 15, 1994). It was during Bishop Graves' tenture that the diocese was redesignated in 1977 as Alexandria-Shreveport. His successor, the Most Reverend William B. Friend, was bishop of Alexandria-Shreveport until the diocese was divided and he became the first bishop of the new diocese of Shreveport, while the Most Reverend John C. Favalora became the bishop of Alexandria. After the separation, the diocese of Alexandria encompassed 11,116 sq. miles, comprising the civil parishes of Rapides, Avoyelles, Concordia, Catahoula, La Salle, Grant, Natchitoches, Vernon, Tensas, Caldwell, Winn, Franklin, and Madison. Approximately 12 percent of the population were Catholics, distributed among 48 parishes and 24 missions. When Bishop Favalora was transferred to the diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida in 1989, he was succeeded by Bishop Sam G. Jacobs.
Bibliography: r. baudier, The Catholic Church in Louisiana (New Orleans 1939).
[c. m. clayton/
m. g. guidry/eds.]