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Chapter IV
FOUNDING OF CHURCHES AND SCHOOLS


Believing religion to be a fundamental and part of man’s life, the colonists brought systems of worship with them into the new lands. History of the region was etched by people who strove to provide man with spiritual development. Much praise should go to those who have served God in the missions throughout the years. Within this chapter is a short history of religion in the area.

The Methodists were the first to preach the faith of Protestants in the region around the year 1851. The earliest ministers were said to be Reverend Mr. Bowman, Reverend Randall Gibson, and Reverend Blackman. The latter two passed through Sicily Island on their way from Mississippi to Alexandria.

In 1851 there were three meeting houses in Sicily Island. The first Methodist Church was located near Polk’s Hallow with a cemetery adjoined to it. A woman who was to become the matriarch of the present day Guice family, Grandma Tillman, aided in forming the Methodists Church at Polk’s Hollow.

The Methodists Episcopal Church (1859-1860) was located at Pinehill. Like the Methodists Church at Polk’s Hollow, it was attended by people of all faiths. It was through the endeavors of Mrs. Harriet Norris that the church at Pinehill had its beginning.

Located on the John Lovelace place was the third meeting house. It was the first church in this area to be attended by the Black population. Both the church and cemetery stood long before the Civil War.

In the year 1858 Maitland Baptist Church was established. This was but a starting point for the numerous churches to be founded by the Black population. Below is a list of those founded from 1862-1976:
Zion Baptist Church, 1862; New Salem Baptist Church, 1865; Hopewell Baptist Church, 1865; Saint Paul’s Baptist Church, 1875; Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1880; New Zion Baptist Church, 1893; Leland Baptist Church, 1896; New Light Baptist Church, 1905; Mount Rose Baptist Church, 1912; Fist Baptist Church, 1923.

As a surge of religious thinking swept the area, three women evangelists became quite renowned. Strains of “Brighter in the Corner Where You Are” rang through the old school building, now known as the Spencer Home. While holding revivals there, Methodists were inspired to form a church within the township itself. Thus came about the formation of the Sicily Island Methodist Church between 1908-1910.

Around this time, the formation of Pinehill Baptist Church began. Approximately twenty-five members met monthly in the school building under the supervision of Reverend I. J. Brooks. The Pinehill Baptist Church building was completed in 1925. On January 27, 1953, dedication ceremonies were held for their first mission church, Norris Hill Baptist Church.

The present Methodist Church building was completed in 1965 under the directorship of Reverend James Hodges a minister much loved in the community. The old church building that had been serving as a Sunday school unit was torn down between 1975-1976 to make way for a much-needed addition to the church. As demolition of the old building began, the members felt mixed emotions because there were so many fond memories of M.Y.F. meetings, Sunday School, births, deaths, and former ministers such as Brother J. J. Davis.

In 1968 the Church of Christ was built within the Township of Sicily Island. The list below indicates other churches built in the area and some of their founding pastors and dates of completion: Cash Bayou Baptist Church, 1939, Reverend G. B. Norris; Fouls Church of God, 1944, Reverend Henry Hall; Pentecostal Church, 1950, Reverend L. E. Ladner (drove the first nail); First Baptist Church, 1952, Reverend Ralph Webber; Faith Baptist Church, 1976.

In the past, education was not thought of as it is today. Schools were found mainly in larger communities, and the prospect of receiving a good education was limited to the elite. However, there were those who fought to bring culture and knowledge to people stranded in the isolation of meagerly populated areas.

In 1849, Mr. Knapp, a native of Ohio, established an academy in the pine hills of Sicily Island. Enrollment the first year was about fifty pupils, with Mr. Knapp serving as principal. Mr. William Rek, who taught instrumental music and French, and Mrs. Knapp, who served as matron, were the sole members of Mr. Knapp’s teaching staff.

Many families maintained cabins in the hills, going there in the summer to escape the heat of the low-lying parishes adjoining Catahoula.

Oddly enough, most children of he planters of Sicily Island were sent away to Kentucky to be educated.

Though the Brooks family has been associated mainly with Pinehill Baptist Church since its beginning, one member of this well-known family has served through the promotion of education. A. L. Brooks, a citizen of Sicily Island, became Superintendent of Schools of Catahoula Parish on May 1, 1943, and retired July 1, 1973, serving thirty years dedicated to the school system of the parish.

In 1948 Joe Raymond Peace came to Sicily Island High School to be its football coach. Mr. Peace coached twenty-seven years, retiring in 1975. The Sicily Island football team became known statewide for its successful teams. Coach Peace always used the Notre Dame Box, which is now considered obsolete to modern football tactics.

Coach Peace is married to the former Mary Sue Pipes of Jena. The Peaces have one son, Joe Raymond, who is now coaching on the staff of the Northwestern Demons. Mrs. Peace, a descendent of several prominent families in this area, is presently teaching in the elementary school.

In the history of Catahoula Parish, there have been several women appointed to serve un-expired terms of office on the Parish School Board. However, the only woman to be elected on her own merit was Mrs. Lucille Steele Ogden, daughter of I. A. and Molly Steele. Mrs. Ogden’s husband was John Wesley Ogden of Clarion, Pennsylvania. Mr. and Mrs. Ogden have two daughters: Mrs. Virginia Caston of Lake Charles, Louisiana and Mrs. Evelyn Rife of Clayton, Louisiana.

Chapter 5 -- Post Civil War Years


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