New Orleans, Louisiana

[seal of the city of New Orleans] From its very early history Catholics have been connected with the development of New Orleans. Catholic missionaries accompanied the Catholic discoverers, De Soto, Iberville, La Salle, and Bienville, in the exploration of the territory embracing New Orleans. It was placed under the authority of the Bishop of Quebec, and the Indians of the territory were under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Jesuits. In 1718 Bienville selected the present site of New Orleans as provincial headquarters and the plans as drawn up by the Chevalier Le Blond de La Tour included a parish church which was dedicated to Saint Louis, and occupied the spot which the old Saint Louis Cathedral later occupied. In 1721 Father François de Charlevoix, S.J., one of the earliest historians of Louisiana recounts that he "said Mass in a large wooden warehouse, a chapel being under construction at the time." The "Company of the West" to which New Orleans was transferred, 1717, by the Duke of Orleans, was obliged to furnish and support churches and priests under the authority of the Bishop of Quebec. On the division of Louisiana into three ecclesiastical portions, May 1722, New Orleans was entrusted to the Discalced Carmelites, who were superseded by the Capuchins who had come to Louisiana, in 1720. As early as 1725 New Orleans had 600 Catholic families. Father Nicolas Ignatius de Beaubois, S.J., the founder of the Jesuit mission in New Orleans, brought over a congregation of Ursulines to minister in a hospital and school. They reached New Orleans, 6 August 1727, and founded the first convent for women within the present limits of the United States. The convent they occupied was the oldest building within the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, and into it they received the first American-born nun, an Iroquois Indian, Mary Turpin. The Jesuits also introduced into Louisiana the culture of sugar-cane, oranges, and figs. Despite their many valuable contributions and their work among the Indians and Negroes, the superior Council of Louisiana, imitating that of Paris, suppressed the society in its province, confiscated their property, and expelled its members. Father Boudin, S.J., the patriarch of the colony, too old to leave, was maltreated until Etienne de Bore rescued and sheltered him. Subsequent to the cession of Louisiana to Spain the Spanish Capuchins came to New Orleans where they caused difficulty by their severe censure of the laxity of the French Capuchins. To ameliorate conditions Father Cirilo de Barcelona was appointed auxiliary Bishop of the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, under whose tutelage New Orleans had been placed, with residence at New Orleans. By a fire which devastated the city, 21 March 1788, the church, Capuchin convent, school, and Father Cirilo's house were destroyed. Through the generosity of Don Andreas Almonaster y Roxas the house for the clergy, school, and hospital were rebuilt, and a new cathedral, charity hospital, Ursuline chapel, and leper hospital were constructed. In 1793 Right Reverend Luis Pefialver y Cardenas was consecrated first bishop of the newly created See of Saint Louis of New Orleans. He inaugurated a program of strict reform in which connection he called the first and only synod held in colonial New Orleans.

Following the sale of Louisiana to the United States several clergymen and nuns withdrew from New Orleans. The Ursulines who remained were assured by President Jefferson that they and their property would be unmolested, and by appeal to the legislature had a law passed, 28 January 1818, providing that testimony when required of a nun should be taken at the convent by commission. To accommodate the great increase of English-speaking people, including Irish immigrants, Saint Patrick's church was dedicated, 21 April 1833. In 1842 Bishop Blanc and Father Rousselon, V.G., founded the Sisters of the Holy Family for the care of colored orphans and aged poor, the first colored sisterhood established in the United States. In connection with charitable work among the Negroes the name of Thomy Lafon, black philanthropist, is important. It was through his generosity that Archbishop Janssens later was enabled to erect an asylum for boys, reformatory for black girls, and improve the home for aged Negro paupers. During the period of rapid increase in churches, beginning 1844, the church of the Immaculate Conception, credited with being the first church in the world dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, was erected. In 1847 the Jesuits resumed activities in the city and the erection of their college was begun. The Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross established a manual industrial school for male orphans, 1855, and opened their college, 1879. The establishment of several institutions of higher education including a seminary, hospitals, asylums, and various charitable institutions followed rapidly.

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