He’d come to Louisiana from his native France at the age of 19 and was ordained by a fellow Frenchman, Bishop Augustus Martin of what was then the Diocese of Natchitoches and is today the Diocese of Alexandria. He served for a while as president of Natchitoches College and held pastoral assignments in New Orleans, Ville Platte, and Breaux Bridge before coming to Lafayette on Palm Sunday, 1881.
He was said to be a saintly man and a lover of flowers. And he also was remembered for his monkeys.
According to a document in the archives at UL’s Dupre Library, Father Forge helped to give Lafayette the nickname of “city of flowers.” He converted a plot between the church and the rectory into a rose garden and “people came from far and near” to see the 1,300 named varieties planted there.
The monkeys were a different story, according to an account recorded some years ago by the late “Tante Ruth” Hamilton. She said Father Forge kept two monkeys, Jake and Fifine, and that Jake was a rascal.
“Father had a house for them in the yard, but there were times when Jake got out and roamed around the neighborhood,” according to Mrs. Hamilton’s remembrance. “When Jake was on the loose, Father would ring the church bell and everybody would know to come and help recapture him,”
One day Jake got into the kitchen of a house near the church, grabbed the cook’s infant child, and climbed into a pecan tree. Father Forge brought bananas and apples and – speaking in French (which was apparently Jake’s semi-native tongue) – tried to coax the monkey from the tree.
Mrs. Hamilton remembered, “Finally, as the crowd watched, Jake began to come down, unable to resist the temptation of the fruit. The people … held their breath for fear Jake would throw the baby down. But he didn’t. When he climbed down, he gave the baby to Father in exchange for a banana.”
Father Forge died Oct. 30, 1905 after a long illness, during which the newspaper reported, “he was tenderly and assiduously care for … by warm friends – laymen of the town and clergymen from neighboring parishes, many of whom were present during his last moments.”
In the precise calculation commonly found in obituaries of Father Forge’s time, he was 68 years, 6 months, and 25 days old at the time of his death. He was buried in front of the altar inside the church, but the remains were moved eight years later during a renovation of the church.
The Lafayette Advertiser of Sept. 26, 1913, reported, “Tuesday evening the vault containing the body of the Rev. E. Forge was opened in the process of laying the foundations for the new Catholic church and the casket removed to [a] new chamber prepared for it [beneath the church]. While the casket was exposed, many people viewed the remains which were still in [an] excellent state of preservation. … The features were said to be perfectly natural and lifelike.”
Fifine died during Father Forge’s lifetime, and may be buried somewhere on the cathedral grounds.
Jake outlived the pastor and was sent to the Audubon Zoo for a while, and was then sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where, presumably, he got more apples, bananas, and conversations in French.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.