By: Pat Austin
ARNAUDVILLE LA – Being retired has its perks, one of which is that you can attend events that you could not when you had to work.
I finally was able to attend the Fete Dieu du Teche this year which takes place on August 15: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My husband and I are both practicing Episcopalians, or as he calls it, “Catholic Lite.” There are enough similarities in our services that I can easily follow along although as non-Catholics we are not allowed to participate in Communion.
The Fete Dieu du Teche is a solemn, beautiful event:
The day begins at 8 AM with Sunday Mass in French by Bishop Douglas Deshotel at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Leonville.
Following the Mass there will be a procession with the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of Mary and St. Joseph to the nearby boat landing. Families are encouraged to join the procession as a family and follow to the boat landing for Benediction. At 9:30 AM boats will depart in procession down the Teche toward St. Martinville, retracing the voyage made by the Acadians over 250 years ago.
August 15 is a significant date as it is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patroness of the Acadian people and of Acadiana. It is also a day that marks the 256thanniversary of the arrival of French-Canadian immigrants who brought the Catholic faith to Acadiana after enduring great trials and suffering.
Bishop Deshotel of the Diocese of Lafayette states, “Fete Dieu du Teche has become an annual celebration in commemoration of the arrival of the first Acadians from what is now Nova Scotia. They were the first examples of ethnic cleansing in the New World when they were forced to leave their homes and go into exile because of their Catholic Faith at the end of the French and Indian War. A large number of them found their homes in South Louisiana which was Catholic and French. Many settlements were established along the Teche river where they built Churches, homes and a new life.
We stay in Arnaudville, Louisiana five weeks of the year, spread throughout the year; our place in Arnaudville is on Bayou Teche and half a block from the church. We watched the French mass via live stream then walked down to the landing site at the church to participate in the ceremony.
It was simply beautiful to see the boats coming around the bend, down the bayou, slowly making their way to the landing site. The boats tied up along the bank, the procession made its way to the top of the hill, and the Rosary began. From The Daily Iberian:
Father Michael Champagne, organizer of the event said, “Having a Eucharistic Procession by boat on the waters of the Teche rather than by foot in the streets makes a lot of sense. Fête-Dieu du Teche on the Feast of the Assumption recalls our rich Acadian history and, in a way, re-enacts the journey made by the Acadians over 250 years ago.”
Champagne said that having a boat procession with the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Assumption involving priests, religious and laity is basically what happened in 1765: “In order to serve the Acadian settlers in the Attakapas district, Father Jean-Louis de Civrey accompanied the Acadians on their journey down the Bayou Teche. Father de Civrey became the first resident priest. In his records, he refers to his new home as ‘la nouvelle Acadie’ and his new parish ‘l’Eglise des Attakapas’ and later, l’Eglise St. Martin de Tours. It is believed that St. Martinville is named after the church.”
During Fête-Dieu du Teche, the Blessed Sacrament will be carried on an altar under a canopy on the lead boat. Another boat will carry the statue of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year will feature a St. Joseph boat as well as a boat carrying relics of the saints. The procession will stop and disembark at makeshift altars along the Teche for recitation of the Rosary and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
I felt truly blessed to be able to participate in this and I will definitely return next year. If you want to watch any of the live streams, including the French mass or the procession down the Bayou Teche, be sure to check out the Facebook page here. There are also nice, short videos about incense, relics, the monstrance, and other pieces.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.