In 1845 the Rev’d. Lucius Purdy, a priest from St. Martinville, organized an Episcopal parish in the small town of Vermilionville and named it St. Luke’s. There followed over 20 years of inactivity, although the mission church remained on the books of the Diocese of Louisiana until it was dropped as a parish in 1874. In 1884, about the time Vermilionville became Lafayette, the Rev’d. Wallace Hunter re-established services and reactivated the parish under the name of St. Michael’s. Services were held in the Presbyterian House on Buchanan St. with seven confirmed members. Ten years later, the mission recorded only 11 communicants and no building for worship. In 1901, the Rev’d. C.C. Kramer commuted from New Iberia to take over services and reorganized the mission as the Episcopal Church of the Ascension. Soon the church erected its own brick building on the corner of Jefferson and Garfield Streets on a lot donated by the Caffery family, with funding efforts led by the Parkerson family. For the next 30 years Ascension continued as a mission, sometimes tended by a commuting priest and sometimes without a priest in charge.
In 1945 the Rev’d. J. Boyes Jardine became Ascension’s first full-time rector and the next year the church was raised to parish status. After more than a hundred years and with 270 communicants, Ascension soon outgrew its home on Jefferson Street. In February of 1949, the parish purchased the Parkerson family home and grounds on Johnston Street for use as a church and parish house. Rev’d Jardine served for ten years. After the Rev’d. Jardine left, the Rev’d. David Coughlin, a former missionary priest in Hawaii, became rector at the recommendation of Bishop Girault M. Jones. Under Rev’d Jardine’s ten-year leadership span, the congregation grew to nearly 400 communicants. Funds were raised, a beautiful new building designed by noted Louisiana architect A. Hayes Town was erected, and the new church was dedicated on December 15, 1957. In the fall of 1959, under the direction of Rev’d. Coughlin and Mrs. Jeanette Parker, the Parish opened Ascension Day School (now Ascension Episcopal School), which has grown over the years to a PreK – 12 school on three separate campuses. It is the primary outreach program of the parish and one of Louisiana’s finest parochial schools. As a result of the rapid growth of Lafayette and of Ascension Church, the bishop asked the parish in 1963 to lead in the establishment of a mission church in the southern part of Lafayette, later to become St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
Ascension Church has experienced steady growth over the years and has seen its campus grow to include a new parish hall building with nursery, youth, and meeting rooms, as well as extensive kitchen and storage space. The clergy and church office space, work room, choir room, and staff offices have also been remodeled, and a new sacristy building was added onto the sanctuary. Ascension Episcopal Middle School sits on the back of the property and is anchored by Parker Hall and the gymnasium. Ascension Church and School have become leaders in the Diocese of Western Louisiana and the City of Lafayette.
The Church of the Ascension has been blessed over the years to be led by many fine priests as well as many dedicated members of the parish who have served in leadership positions, both in the parish and in the Diocese. The church is now a landmark facility in the City of Lafayette and continues to serve all ages.
Church as a Landmark
The physical church at Ascension is an example of significant Louisiana architecture. It was designed by the late A. Hays Town, a prominent Louisiana architect and parishioner. The present church building is traditional English Gothic in design and combines old-style brick, a narthex, a bell tower, a garden wall, and exquisite stained glass windows. The ceiling design typifies the early church tradition that the church nave was symbolic of a ship or ark of salvation. The church is considered to be one of the most beautiful in our area.
To learn more about the story of Ascension, we recommend Remembering Ascension, a book by parishioners Ann Dobie and Mary Buie Skelton. Copies may be purchased from the church office or checked out from the parish library in Coughlin Hall. We also recommend Ascension Episcopal School: Sixty Years of Excellence, a fine illustrated volume published by the UL-Lafayette Press.