Founder of the French Mission field in south Louisiana
The Louisiana conference for 1898 was held in January of that year. Martin Hebert (of St. Martinville) asked to be sent to the French. He was admitted on trial to the French Mission for 1898. Armed with two sermons in French, he began his first year in ministry to the French. There were still 57 members and no church. By the end of the year, the membership had dropped to 43, but there was now a church (at Isle Aux Cannes) in the Mission. He only accepted two people on profession of faith. A local "Creole" was licensed to exhort during the third quarter. Looking back, Rev. Hebert said that his biggest accomplishment that first year was meeting and marrying his wife, Nettie. His salary for this first year was $210.
The church built in 1898, which measured 28' by 38', should have been built twenty years ago when Rev. Picot was in the area. He had gotten the cypress lumber to build the church, but it was never built. Some of the lumber was even used to build a dance hall.
Rev. Hebert stated that his biggest problem was not the Catholic Church, but the drinking and dancing. The Methodist Church opposed drinking and dancing, which were an important part of the lifestyle in south Louisiana. To join the MethodistChurch meant that they had to give up drinking and dancing. To many, this was harder than turning away from Catholicism.
The French Mission was left to be supplied by Joseph Berwick in 1899. Though they didn't tell him why, Rev. Hebert was moved to the Plaquemine/Brulee Circuit. No one was appointed to the French Mission for 1900. But the next year, Martin Hebert was back.
Martin Hebert was born in Bell City, Louisiana on May 29, 1874. He grew up in the Catholic church. As a youth, he was converted. He went to Lake Charles College and taught for a while. He heard the call to preach, but didn't have the money for an education to prepare him for the ministry. He and his brothers raised a crop and used the proceeds to pay for their schooling (his brother Willie became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church). He was licensed to preach at age twenty-three and was admitted on trial in 1898.
He married Miss Nettie Clarissa Kingsbury, of Missouri Valley, Iowa, on July 18, 1898. The two of them had seven children, all of whom were born in parsonages. Nettie was a talented teacher and musician, and would always lend a hand when needed. She was the model pastor's wife ... maintaining a Christian family while still supporting her husband's ministry. When accolades were poured on Rev. Hebert, he knew that he was able to accomplish what he did due to the efforts of his beloved wife, Nettie.
Approximately two-thirds of his ministry was dedicated to the French people of south Louisiana. He traveled across the bayou country by horseback, boat, buggy, wagon, on foot, and by bicycle. He often came to Terrebonne Parish by train. He served the French Mission for much of the first quarter of the 20th century. He filled in as the Houma pastor for half of 1916. He was the presiding elder of the Houma and French Mission District form 1920-1923. He also served a variety of charges in other parts of the state.
Simply put, Martin Hebert WAS the French Mission in Louisiana. He was the "emblem of the Protestant French" in south Louisiana, as Dr. B. Joseph Martin once said. He recognized the need to bring the Methodist message to the people in their own language. Many of the Methodist churches in south Louisiana owe their existance to his efforts.
The message that Rev. Hebert preached was simple and straight-forward. He wasn't interested in theological subleties and fancy religious opinions. He offered the Gospel to everyone and offered it to them equally.
Rev. Hebert passed away on October 9, 1961. He left behind a legacy unequalled in south Louisiana Methodism.