Catholic New Orleans

The Old Ursuline Convent was — surprise! — a convent. For the Ursuline order of nuns. It was built in 1745 and was an orphanage and school for girls as well as a convent. It’s the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley and is now a museum on the history of the convent and the Catholic Church in New Orleans.

The Ursulines arrived in New Orleans from Fance in 1727 and built a convent closer to the river, in 1734.  But you know how that goes. Flooding, flooding and more flooding. So the nuns came inland. This staircase was in the first building and moved to the new construction. A sign next to it said that “It is the only open, winding staircase remaining in an American colonial building.” And “the hand forged railing is the only original ironwork left from French Colonial Louisiana.”

Even the convent museum had a Mardi Gras exhibit.

2018 was the Tricentennial of the founding of New Orleans and it was the theme of the Rex organization for the 2018 Mardi Gras. The favors that they threw from their float reflected New Orleans history and culture.

The throws included St. Louis Cathedral

The Ursulines

The Great Fire of 1788 (there have been several in New Orleans)

and Henriette DeLille.

Henriette was a woman of color who founded the African-American order of the Sisters of the Holy Family. They ran nursing homes for the elderly, and schools and orphanages for children. In 1988, her order submitted a petition for cannonization with the Vatican. In 2010, Pope Bendict XVI bestowed on her the title of Venerable — two steps before sainthood (Blessed comes between Venerable and Saint).

Attached to the convent is St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It was dedicated in 1845 as Our Lady of Victory and served as the convent’s chapel.

The Ursuline’s wrote President Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase, expressing the fear that being part of the US meant that they would lose their right to self-governance. He wrote back to them on 13 July 1804.

“I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. the principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it’s own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.

I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship & respect.”


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2 Responses to Catholic New Orleans

  1. Jo Shafer says:

    What a stunningly beautiful altar and reredos in the sanctuary of the convent church! The blue ceiling makes the space seem open to the sky, doesn’t it? I’m glad you wrote about this convent and a bit of its history. (Unfortunately, all those ads interfered with the tone of your story. Couldn’t be helped, I’m sure.)

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