A quintessential Catholic city at 300

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It’s a big year for New Orleans. 2018 marks its tricentennial year — the 300th anniversary of a city rich in history, culture and diversity. New Orleans is a place all to itself, famous for its architecture, cuisine and music. But akin to how the “Mighty Mississippi” forms the backbone of the city’s geography and socioeconomic importance in history, the Catholic faith serves as the city’s underlying foundation — a faith that was present even before the city’s establishment by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in 1718. The Catholic identity of New Orleans comes from its rich French and Spanish background. French missionaries first brought the Gospel to the Mississippi River basin in the late 17th-century, and the first Mass was celebrated in the modern-day state of Louisiana, near the river’s mouth, on Mardi Gras of 1699. The city benefited from the service of many saints, and served as home for some holy men and women currently on the path to canonization, as well as a number of important figures in American Catholic history. It is apropos, therefore, that many streets reference the saints — not to mention the city’s NFL team. New Orleans also is home to the oldest active cathedral in the United States, in addition to nearly 40 churches and several beloved shrines. Enjoy a deeper look at the city’s heritage in the following pages. Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael . St. Louis Cathedral A church has sat on the site now occupied by New Orleans’ Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis since the city was founded in 1718. After earlier iterations of the church building, a most stable structure was completed in 1789. It became the diocesan cathedral in 1793 with the establishment of a diocese. It was mostly rebuilt, enlarged and restored around 1850. Pope St. Paul VI designated the cathedral a minor basilica in 1964. Pope St. John Paul II visited the church during his pastoral visit to the city in 1987. The various structures on the property, including the current cathedral, have survived an abundance of traumas over the years. Damage was sustained to the cathedral in 1909, when a dynamite bomb was detonated inside the church — destroying, among other things, the stained-glass windows. No stranger to hurricanes and storms over the centuries, the most recent severe damage was sustained during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Prompt Succor After the Ursuline nuns arrived in New Orleans in 1727, they established a convent and girls’ school in New Orleans, the first of its kind in what is now the United States. Not long after the territory returned to French control, the Ursulines fled to Cuba for fear of repercussions associated with the anti-religious sentiment of the French Revolution. Receiving a promise of protection in the United States directly from President Thomas Jefferson, they returned to New Orleans. When one of the Ursuline sisters in charge of the school in New Orleans was in need of help, she wrote to one of her cousins, a religious sister still in France named Mother St. Michel Gensoul. Denied permission to set out for an American mission by her bishop, she sought the only recourse available to her and wrote the pope. She prayed to Mary, saying: “O most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain for me a prompt and favorable answer to this letter, I promise to have you honored at New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.” The pope responded favorably in record time, and she had a statue commissioned of Mary holding the child Jesus, as promised. When Gensoul arrived in New Orleans in 1810, she brought the statue and installed it at the Ursuline convent in New Orleans. Ever since, throughout the history of New Orleans, Our Lady of Prompt Succor has been invoked in a variety of circumstances, even bringing about miracles. During a great fire in New Orleans in 1812, the Ursulines gathered around the statue and sought Mary’s intercession. As they begged the …

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