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This is a contributing entry for Le Petit Musée and Shrine of St. John Berchmans and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school for girls, was founded in 1821 when two sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart arrived in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.


  • The land granted to the Religious of the Sacred Heart was part of a Spanish land grant to John Gyson in 1790.
  • Mother Aude and Sister Layton traveled down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Plaquemines, Louisiana. From there, they traveled up bayous, boarded wagons, and rode horseback until they arrived in Grand Coteau.
  • The original house donated by Mrs. Smith served as a school and residence until the 1830s when a new building was constructed. However, this house was still in use when it burned in a fire in 1914.
  • In 1822 Philippine Duchesne traveled from Missouri to Grand Coteau to see the progress at the Academy.  At the time furniture was still scarce, so this desk was constructed for Mother Duchesne's use. It was subsequently used by various Superiors of the school.

The Society of the Sacred Heart was founded in France in 1800. After only eighteen years, five religious set sail from France to make the first foundation outside Europe. Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne was trusted by the foundress Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat to lead this small group to St. Charles, Missouri. In 1820, Philippine learned of a widow, Mary Sentee Smith, who was willing to build a school and pay the transportation of the nuns to come to Grand Coteau, Louisiana.

Permission was received from St. Madeleine Sophie to begin this foundation and Sisters Eugénie Audé and Mary Layton boarded the Rapide for the trip down the Mississippi River. After a three week trip, they arrived August 1821. They were expecting reinforcements from France: funds, supplies, and additional sisters; however, this would not arrive until February 1822.

Setting out with only about $100 (500 Francs), Sisters Audé and Layton were already in debt after they arrived in Louisiana. The house provided them was unfurnished with no locks on the doors or windows. Sleeping on floors and working through heat and sickness, the two sisters (with assistance from Mrs. Smith) were able to secure furniture, school and prayer books, and enough provisions to open their doors in October of 1821 to eight girls.