The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux’s colorful history dates far beyond 1977 when it was officially established. The first record of exploration in the area was in 1699, when the French explorer and colonizer Bienville explored Bayou Lafourche, visiting the Washa Indian Villages. The Houma-Thibodaux-Morgan City area was settled by peoples of various cultures over the centuries: native Houmas Indians; French from Nova Scotia and France, Germans from the Rhineland and Switzerland; Spanish and Anglo-Saxon immigrants; slaves of sugar plantations; Italian families from southern Italy; and Vietnamese refugees. As all of these ethnic groups settled along the bayous, they established churches and found livelihoods in the sugar cane, seafood and oil industries. Father Charles M. Menard was appointed vicar of St. Joseph’s parish in 1842. This was the beginning of the extensive missionary work to be done by “Pére Menard,” who came to be known as “The Apostle of Bayou Lafourche.” He would found the majority of the church parishes which comprise the diocese today.
The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was established by Pope Paul VI in March, 1977, and the Most Reverend Warren L. Boudreaux, Bishop of Beaumont, TX, was named the first Ordinary. He was installed on June 5, 1977. The diocese was formed with 36 church parishes and 14 Catholic schools already in place.
Bishop Warren Boudreaux Era
In 1981, the first diocesan school board was established, the first issue of the Bayou Catholic was published, and the first annual Bishop’s Stewardship Appeal was announced by Bishop Boudreaux. A Vietnamese parish, Thanh Gia (Holy Family) was established in 1981 in Amelia. A new monastery of Dominican cloistered nuns was established in the diocese, also in 1981. Bishop Boudreaux officiated groundbreaking ceremonies for the Archives Building on the Nicholls State University campus during 1982. A new parish was established in Thibodaux in 1983, with the name Christ the Redeemer. Lumen Christi retreat center was opened in 1985. Soon after, an addition to the Lumen Christi Retreat Center was dedicated on Jan. 18, 1986, the Father Souby Building (a youth retreat facility).
In that same year, Bishop Boudreaux issued a policy to rid the Diocese of Houma- Thibodaux of all gambling and fairs as a means of church support. St. Lucy parish in Houma and St. Luke parish in Thibodaux, parishes with a Catholic African American spirituality, were re-established in 1986. The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux began broadcasting locally-produced shows and programs from the Catholic Television Network of America (CTNA) in 1987. The LaSalette Fathers left the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux after more than 50 years of service due to a lack of priest personnel in their order during 1988.
Bishop Boudreaux celebrated his 30th anniversary as bishop, 50th anniversary as priest and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, its 15th anniversary in the year 1992. In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit the area causing damage primarily to the Morgan City area and lower Terrebonne Parish. It took months for the Diocese to get back on its feet due to the massive flooding that decimated the entire area. With the beginning of 1993 came news of two diocesan school closures, Sacred Heart Elementary School in Morgan City and St. Hilary Elementary School in Mathews. On Decemeber 29, 1992, Bishop Boudreaux officially announced the acceptance of his retirement and the appointment of the bishop-designate Michael Jarrell.
Bishop Michael Jarrell Era
Bishop Michael Jarrell was ordained and installed bishop of the Houma-Thibodaux diocese at ceremonies on March 4, 1993, at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. In 1996, Christ the Redeemer and St. John the Evangelist parishes in Thibodaux were the first to be linked as part of the pastoral staffing plan of the diocese. The diocese bid farewell to the last two Mt. Carmel sisters serving in the diocese in 1997. This order had existed in Thibodaux since before the Civil War, staffing the girls’ school and St. Joseph Hospital.
On October 6, 1997, the diocese mourned the passing of Bishop Boudreaux who died at the age of 79. His body was waked at the four corners of the diocese as he had willed. In 1998, St. Patrick in Gibson and St. Lawrence in Chacahoula merged into one parish. It was the first and only merge of its kind in the diocese to date. The two parishes took on the name of St. Lawrence. Also in 1998, RENEW 2000 began in the diocese as small sharing groups which met seasonally until Pentecost 2000; however, the meeting of small Christian communities carries on to the present.
Jubilee Year and Silver Anniversary
In June of 2000, 4,000 faithful turned out for a festive, ecumenical celebration of music, song, drama and speech at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center to celebrate Pentecost 2000. The entire year of 2002 was filled with celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the diocese with its theme “One Faith, Many Cultures.” In spring 2002, the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales in Houma underwent a major restoration, which was completed in time for the diocesan 25th anniversary Mass in June. In April of the 25th anniversary year, the book Celebrating Faith Along the Bayous, a pictorial and historical book on the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, was released. Hurricane Lili flooded the areas of Grand Caillou, Montegut, Golden Meadow and Pointe-aux-Chenes when it made landfall on October 3, 2002.
At a press conference at the Pastoral Center on November 8, 2002, it was announced that Bishop Michael Jarrell, the Second Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, had been appointed as the Sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette. Bishop Michael Jarrell was installed as the Sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette on December 18, 2002, at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Lafayette. Msgr. Joseph N. Latino was elected as diocesan administrator on December 19, 2002. On January 11, 2003, at a press conference at the St. Francis de Sales rectory, the announcement was made that Msgr. Latino had been appointed the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, MS. Msgr. James Songy was appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Houma- Thibodaux, effective January 20, 2003. Msgr. Songy replaced bishop-designate Latino.
Bishop Sam Jacobs Era
At a press conference at the diocesan Pastoral Center on August 1, 2003, it was announced that Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of the Diocese of Alexandria had been appointed as the third Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. Capacity crowds were in attendance at both St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Thibodaux and the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales for the evening prayer service and installation Mass for Bishop Jacobs on October 9 and 10, 2003. On December 12, 2003, at a press conference at the St. Joseph Co-Cathedral rectory in Thibodaux, the appointment of Father Oscar A. Solis as Titular Bishop of Urci and Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, CA, was announced. He was the first Filipino-American to be ordained a bishop in the United States.
Six soldiers of the Houma-based Black Sheep Company of the National Guard were killed in Iraq January 2005. The six men were honored at a prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales the same month. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated Southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Floodwaters left thousands homeless in New Orleans. People of the diocese provided much needed comfort and support to those affected by the storm. Emergency shelters were set up throughout the diocese to care for evacuees locally. Catholic schools of the diocese welcomed hundreds of students who were displaced by the hurricane. A month later Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Louisiana/Texas border on September 24, 2005. Thousands of residents along lower Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes within the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux were forced to flee the floodwaters to shelters at area high schools and recreation centers. Hurricane Rita’s floodwaters devastated thousands of homes in the southern portion of the diocese. Under the leadership of Bishop Jacobs the diocese experienced profound growth in two key areas: vocations and evangleization. In 2004 the diocese had but four men in the seminary. In 2014, when Bishop Jacobs retired, there were 16 seminarians in formation. In 2014, the Steubenville on the Bayou Youth Conference, founded in 2004 through Bishop Jacobs, registered over 3,000 teenagers in attendance.
Bishop Shelton Fabre Era
At a press conference at the diocesan Pastoral Center on September 23, 2014, it was announced that Auxillary Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Archdiocese of New Orleans had been appointed as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. Once again, capacity crowds were in attendance at both St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Thibodaux and the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales for the evening prayer service and installation Mass for Bishop Fabre on October 29 and 30, 2014. His episicipal motto, “Comfort my People,” will serve as the lens through which his episcipal legacy will be remembered. May the Lord who has begun a great work in him bring it to fulfillment.