St. Charles Borromeo unveils historic watercolor paintings during Tricentennial celebration

Published 1:25 pm Saturday, April 22, 2023

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DESTREHAN — A glimpse of antebellum life in St. Charles Parish can be found in each of Fr. Joseph Paret’s watercolor paintings, described by former LSU Art Museum Director Pat Bacot as “the most important single group of landscape paintings done before the Civil War in Louisiana.”

Ten of Paret’s watercolor paintings will soon be on permanent display in a Tricentennial Commemorative Memorial celebrating the church’s 300-year history along the German Coast. St. Charles Borromeo Church will host a Fr. Paret’s Watercolor Unveiling and Ascension Plaza Groundbreaking at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22 at 13396 River Road in Destrehan.

According to organizers, the Ascension Plaza will pay tribute to “the 38 pastors who led us into our existence, the timeline that captures our history, the importance of the Mississippi River, and the reason all this is important that all who worship here so we may follow our Ascending Jesus.”

Fr. Paret witnessed an era where sugar plantations prospered along the Mighty Mississippi River. Born in France in 1807, Paret arrived in Louisiana in 1848 and served as pastor of the Little Red Church through 1869. His 1959 watercolor paintings depict horse-drawn buggies traveling the roads as canoes transported goods on the river. The paintings also depict plantations along the river, many with their own cemeteries and school houses.

La Branche Plantation, Oxley Plantation, Hermitage Plantation, Good Hope Plantation and other large estates featured in Paret’s art have disappeared from the landscape over time. The paintings also depict the Little Red Church as it appeared in the 19th Century.

St. Charles Borromeo Church Parish was founded in 1723 near present-day Taft as La Paroisse de St. Jean des Allemands, which translates to the Parish of St. John, of the Germans. The parish was relocated to its present-day location on the East Bank with the construction of a log chapel in 1740. Following a fire in 1806, it was replaced with a wood-framed church that was painted red, earning it the nickname “The Little Red Church” from the travelers along the Mississippi River who used it as a landmark on the route to New Orleans.

The church once again fell victim to fire in 1877 and was without a pastor for roughly 40 years. A new parochial charter for St. Charles Borromeo was adopted in 1917, and the church was dedicated in 1922.

St. Charles Borromeo’s Tri-Centennial celebration kicked off on January 28 with a dinner and lecture in Destrehan Plantation’s Mule Barn featuring Fr. Paret, portrayed by historian Daniel Castoriano.

This year, the church par