Acadiana’s hidden history: St. John’s Cemetery

LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – St. John’s Cemetery is the resting place of about 250,000 of Acadiana’s ancestors, and the history that’s buried right here is what laid the foundation of the Acadiana we know today.

“These people have laid the foundation for us and without them and their sacrifices we might not be where we are today,” Brady Leblanc said.

St. John’s Cathedral of the Evangelist is a staple of Lafayette, but if you look just behind it you might be surprised at what you’ll find.

“It is a documented history of the people that have lived here since they started the town of Vermilionville,” Janice McNeil, museum curator said.

Established in 1821, St. John’s Cemetery is the resting place of thousands of residents.

Everything from the tombs, to the historic oak tree shading them plays a special role in Acadiana’s story.

But to really understand it’s importance let’s start at the beginning.

“Father Michelle Bernard Biyad came here form France. He’s getting away form the French Revolution. So he came to New Orleans and he’s speaking to the archbishop and he is speaking French. And the archbishop say’s thank God you speak French because I have all of these Acadiens that have come down from Nova Scotia, who were exiled from the British and they came to live in Louisiana because it was French and it was Catholic. So they needed to have a church to maintain their religion,” McNeil said.

Once the Acadiens settled, they named the town Vermilionville.

The name came from the deep red color of the leaves and mud along the bayou.

“It’s Autumn time and the leaves are red and the mud is red and he said in French ‘se vermilion’, so he called it the vermilion bayou and the town Vermilionville.”

A piece of history that still exists today in tourists attractions and the university.

“And you know that nice crimson, red color of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette that is here, that is vermilion, not red, it’s vermilion,” McNeil said.

Many of the early settlers of the area are buried at St. John’s Cemetery.

If you’re familiar with Lafayette you know of the odd street names

For example, Kaliste Saloom, well what many don’t know is that these names are the names of many important settlers of our community.

“I always point out Ambassador Caffery, Kaliste Saloom, Eraste Landry all the street names and they are really like oh I didn’t know that was a real person,” said Leblanc.

Real people who paved the way for the Acadiens along the bayou.

“Without their sacrifices, without their diligence to preserve our Catholic faith and the history of their ancestors, where would we be a society,” Leblanc said.

Cemetery Superintendent Brady Leblanc said St. John’s Cemetery is much more than a resting place.

“It’s truly an inspirational place, it’s a place of peace, it’s truly a piece of history that has written itself in the hearts of so many of us without us even knowing it.”

As for the future of the cemetery, Leblanc said they will continue to preserve Acadiana’s history for many years to come.

 

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