St. Hilary’s Catholic Church in Raceland will hold a mass in Cajun French

The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux is honoring Cajun culture next week by hosting its annual mass in French.

The diocese has been running a service where music and sermons have been held in Cajun French since the mid-2000s, according to the director of the diocesan worship office, the Reverend Glenn LeCompte.

Mass will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at St. Hilary’s Catholic Church, 333 Twin Oaks Drive, Raceland.

LeCompte said the purpose of the Mass in French is to celebrate and recognize the dignity of the Acadian people.

The goal is also to help revive a culture that was stolen between the expulsion of the Acadians and later Louisiana laws that affected their descendants.

“For example, I was a victim of all this, my parents were bilingual, but they didn’t teach us because of the aftermath of this law, so I felt a little robbed,” LeCompte said. “I am being deprived of the experience of teaching what is truly a beautiful French dialect.”

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This dialect is distinct from fluent French as spoken in France.

Nicholls State University’s director of bayou studies, Dr. Gary Lafleur, said the French language in Paris is constantly evolving with the newest words and slang. Those in Nova Scotia clung to the old language, and even after 100 years it was very different.

“It already means that when these Acadians came to Louisiana in the Grand Dérangement, they were already speaking old-fashioned French,” LaFleur said. “And then these people moved to rural Louisiana, where they were even more isolated.”

The Acadian language took a second hit in 1921, when the Louisiana Legislative Assembly ruled that schools could no longer be taught in French, LeCompte said.

Worshipers dressed as Acadians walk down the Allée Saint-Hilaire as part of the annual mass in French, dedicated to Acadian culture, on August 15, 2019.

“I don’t know if there’s a one-to-one correlation with the stories we hear about people being punished for speaking French,” LeCompte said. “I guess what happened was that administrators and teachers had to enforce this law not only were they teaching English in class, but they were banning students from speaking French in school because they wanted them to learn English.”

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LeCompte said he obtained copies of liturgical books from French Canada to perform the service. It will be a celebration of solemnity – the highest rank a celebration can have in the Catholic tradition – and will be for the Assumption of Mary.

“What we believe in this celebration is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the time of her death was taken up body and soul into heaven,” LeCompte explained. “The reason why we celebrate this mass on this day is that at the end of the 19th century, the International Acadian Congress voted this day as the patronal feast of the Acadian people.

“I guess you could say Mary is the patron saint of the Acadian people.”

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