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Surrounded by stately oaks and crepe myrtles, the Church of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to serve the community of Donaldsonville today as it has for more than two hundred and thirty years.

Founded by order of King Charles III of Spain in 1772, it has remained the center of faith for Christians here under the flags of Spain, France, Territory of Louisiana, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America.  No one knows exactly when the first small chapel was constructed, however, the Acadians began to settle the area in 1758, and records indicate that the Spanish militia began construction on a small mission chapel for the settlement on September 10, 1770, on property that remains designated as church property today.  It was--as were other churches along the Mississippi River--served by a missionary priest who traveled by boat up and down the River.

Thirty-four years BEFORE William Donaldson founded the City of Donaldsonville, Father Angelus Revillogodos, Franciscan Capuchin Missionary priest, had dedicated the Church parish to the Ascension of Our Lord on August 15, 1772.  It was officially named “La Iglesia de la Ascension de Nostro Senor Jesu Cristo da Lafourche de los Chetimaches.”  The reference therein is to the Chetimaches Indian tribe which was found by early French explorers at the junction of the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche at Donaldsonville.  It had been to the Chetimaches that the earliest French missionary priests had come to evangelize in 1704.  The territory comprising the original boundaries of the Church parish included more than the present geographical area of Ascension Civil Parish, which derives its name from Ascension Catholic Church parish. 

The original wooden mission chapel enlarged in 1783, then finally dismantled and replaced by the first official church building, constructed of brick, in 1819.  The first ordination to the priesthood in Louisiana was celebrated at Ascension of Our Lord Church in Donaldsonville on October 24, 1823, when Bishop Louis William DuBourg ordained Jean-Baptiste Blanc, a native of Lyons, France.  In 1830 Donaldsonville replaced New Orleans as the capital city of the State of Louisiana, but after only a year, New Orleans once again became the capital city.  Construction of the second larger church building was begun, and would be completed in 1843 at a total cost of $19,000. Twenty-two foreign missionary priests pastored Ascension Church parish for its first 100 years between 1772 and 1872.  In 1872 Belgian native Father Francis Xavier Ceuppens became the twenty-third pastor and immediately began planning the third and present church building.  Construction began on the church foundation in 1875, and the cornerstone was laid on June 24, 1876.  Construction was slow for want of and waiting for imported materials and because of lacking funds, and was finally halted eight years after it had begun in 1883.  Fr. Ceuppens was caught in the middle of a lengthy dispute between the Church’s Board of Wardens and the Archbishop of New Orleans over ownership and control of church money and property.  Church records attest that the celebration of the sacraments in the parish ended abruptly--presumably indicating that the parish was placed under interdict--and under threat of bodily harm Fr. Ceuppens was forcibly evicted from the rectory by the Board of Wardens for obeying the archbishop’s order and refusing to offer the sacraments.  While the dispute was settled legally in favor of the Board of Wardens (the magistrate was related to a member of the Board), church money and property must have been transferred eventually to the archbishop, because in 1885 the apparent interdict was lifted with the appointment of Fr. Jean Honore Dubernard as the 24th pastor. 

Construction was slowly but surely resumed on the new church building.  A distinctive change in the color of the bricks approximately halfway up on the exterior walls of the church building testifies to the interruption in construction.  In 1896, the new church building which had taken 21 years to construct at a cost of $80,000 was opened on March 31st, and solemnly dedicated on April 14th.  When dedicated, it wasn’t entirely completed.  Fr. Dubernard would see to the final completion in 1900.  He died on August 1, 1902, after serving as pastor for 17 years.  His body is interred in a crypt under Ascension Church, and the crypt is still visible from a “Chapel of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” where faithful are in prayer 24 hours daily.  This chapel is located directly beneath the main sanctuary of the Church and is accessible from ground level at the rear of the church building. 

Having been weakened over the years by strong winds, the steeple structure atop the bell tower was declared unsafe, and was dismantled and taken down in 1936. In 1984, the 1907 rectory was demolished and construction began on a new administration building adjoining the church at the side, and a new clergy residence and both were completed in 1986.

In 1989 the Church parish began a massive preservation effort to arrest deterioration to the church building and furnishings and restore them to their original condition.  The efforts, still underway today, have already made roof attic and roof repairs, installed a complete lightning protection system, new attic access for inspecting for leaks and electrical fire hazards, restored the more than 80 year old statues and stations of the cross, repaired, restored, and protected the church’s stained glass windows (some of which are original), restored exterior masonry, replaced water-damaged plaster on the interior walls, completely repainted the interior of the church, replaced and modernized the electrical service, rewired the church, and added improved interior and exterior lighting.  The inoperative mechanical Verdin bell-ringing system which was 54 years old was replaced by a new digital Verdin bell-ringing system.  The system rings the three bells in the bell tower, one of which is 127 years old.  An inoperative carillon system was also replaced with a new digital Verdin system. In 1996, the year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the church’s dedication, the steeple was restored to the church after being absent for 60 years.  The community is especially proud of the new steeple.  The original steeple for years served as a landmark for travelers and residents in the area by land on both sides of the Mississippi River, and by traffic on the River itself.  In the year 2000, more original architectural features were restored to the church’s exterior.  Two minor spires which had been missing since they were blown off during Hurricane Betsy in 1968 were restored. A cupola atop the apex of the church which had been missing since 1910 was also restored.  In addition to this preservation work, a new choir section was built in the west transept of the church, an entirely new and effective sound system was installed in the church, and second floors in the two forward sacristies were constructed.  More phases of the preservation work will restore the clock in the bell tower, repair and refinish the pews, kneelers, and wood floors, and restore the decorative wrought iron fencing around the church property perimeter.  The church, in its original state with steeple, has been the subject of paintings by such distinctive and renowned Louisiana artists as Robert Rucker and George Rodrigue.                  


A Eucharistic Community Since 1772




716 Mississippi Street PO Box 508 Donaldsonville, Louisiana 70346

225.473.3176 Fax 225.473.3256


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