Weekly bulletin: Sept. 6, 2015
The first Catholic chapel in Alexandria was constructed in 1817 by Father Maynes, who was stationed in Natchitoches at the time. Construction on the church on Front Street had begun, but was not complete when the resident priest, Father Robert Doogan arrived in the late 1820s. Mass was said in the enclosure of the building, and there was no rectory so the Antoine Biossat family gave Father Doogan a place to live.
In August 1843, Father Doogan contracted yellow fever, died two months later, and was buried beneath the church on Front Street. When the church burned in 1895, Father Doogan’s body, along with the remains of five other priests were reinterred in a single unmarked crypt beneath the present cathedral.
During the Civil War, the only structure in town to escape the fires was St. Francis Church. Father J.P. Bellier disguised his voice to impersonate General Banks, the Commanding Officer, and ordered the troops to spare the church. Thinking it was General Banks the Yankee troops left the church alone.
Father Leonard Menard began taking steps to erect a new church on December 3, 1895. Less than a month later, fire destroyed the old church on Front Street. All the records dating to the earliest days of the church were also destroyed.
The new church was dedicated on November 30, 1899, and became the first brick church in the city. Because of Alexandria’s location and the size of the new church, Bishop Cornelius Van de Ven petitioned Rome to transfer the See City of the Diocese from Natchitoches to Alexandria.
On August 6, 1910, Pope Pius X erected the Diocese of Alexandria, and St. Francis Xavier Church was raised to the dignity of Cathedral.