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St. Leo IV Church circa Early 1900s

Roberts Cove, LA

A Brief History of

It all began when Rev. Peter Leonard Thevis, a native priest of Langbroich, Germany, was asked by Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin to come to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1867 because of the large number of German immigrants there. He was assigned to the Holy Trinity Church parish in New Orleans. During one of Fr. Thevis' trips home to Germany, he persuaded his family to come check out this area in Louisiana.

In 1878, Fr. Thevis' brother, Peter Joseph Thevis, his nephew, John Gerhard Thevis and a friend, Herman Grein came to America. Because of the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans, the three men, who landed on the East Coast, proceeded to Milwaukee, Wis. and stayed there with friends until January 1880. At this time a new railroad was being completed connecting New Orleans to Texas. It was on January 13, 1880 that Fr. Thevis, accompanied by his two kinsmen and Herman Grein, came on this railway to Rayne, and to the prairie land three miles north of Rayne to look over the area. The site selected for the future colony was known as "Roberts Cove" named for Benjamin Roberts, the original owner of a Spanish land grant.

Thereafter, thirteen families joined them in 1881. More came in the following years. At present there are approximately 175 families living in the Roberts Cove area. These German Catholics were fleeing Germany to avoid religious persecution and military impressments. They left their homeland of the Gangelt, Geilenkirchen district of Germany and established a strong rice farming community, deeply rooted. religious faith and German traditions right here in Louisiana. Fr. Hennemann, OSB, of the Benedictine order, who was a Missionary to German-speaking Catholics in the United States, was looking for a place to put a monastery when he met Fr. Thevis in New Orleans in the spring of 1883.

They ventured to Roberts Cove where Fr. Henneman purchased land that included a house which served as both a rectory and a chapel and another building which served as a school house. He brought with him a Catholic Brother who was to conduct the school. Thus only two years after its beginning, the colony had acquired a German priest and a teacher. The Monastery never came to be but the Benedictines helped to established the parish of St. Leo IV in 1885.

Throughout these past 105 years, the St. Leo IV church has been the heart of the Roberts Cove community. The uniqueness of this small German community is the fact that they settled in the middle of the French Acadian area of Southwest Louisiana. Even though they are surrounded by French Acadians, they never gave up their German customs and traditions handed down from their ancestors. Some of these customs include the singing of German hymns for the feasts of Corpus Christi, All Saints, Christmas and funerals. The singing of German Folk Songs are still sung on the feast of St. Leo IV, Germanfest and many other events celebrated at St. Leo IV Church.

Another special event takes place on the eve of St Nicholas, Dec. 5th. Each year the St. Leo IV Choir, accompanied by St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the third century, who is the I patron saint of children; Black Peter, a small boy made up to resemble a child of Asia Minor, who accompanied the Bishop on his rounds and Santa Claus. This group visits fourteen homes where families group together. Christmas carols, mostly German, are sung while St. Nicholas speaks to all the children and Santa gives them candy.


Fr. Charles Zaunbrecher, historian for all the German families who settled in Roberts Cove, began to have family reunions or Feierleckkeiten, (family celebrations) on the first Sunday of October each year. The larger families would alternate years. As time went on, we were prompted to share our German Culture and Heritage with all our neighbors of Southwest La.

Thus in 1995, the first Roberts Cove Germanfest came to be, thereby, combining all the families together and extending it to ALL who wanted to join us for one big celebration. The first full weekend of October; faith, family and local German heritage are celebrated on the grounds of St. Leo IV church during the annual Roberts Cove Germanfest. Visitors are treated to local German food, heritage and genealogy. German singing and German Folk dancing performed by descendants from 8 to 80 years old are special attractions.

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