My family made the two-hour drive to New Orleans today for an afternoon in the French Quarter. We had a wonderful lunch of steamed and fried Louisiana seafood – a fare that we dearly miss enjoying on a regular basis as we did before we moved away from the state. Balcony seating made the experience truly rich, watching the cargo ships steaming by on the Mississippi and hearing the French Market jazz music wafting over from across the street. The kids were trying to recruit me for a game of Polytopia, a world-building smartphone game that I have no idea how to play. My youngest daughter told the others to “teach Mom how to play,” a lesson that I could probably learn again at this point in my life in both video games and life in general! And what better place to help a person relax and ‘laissez les bons temps rouler,’ while taking in abundant historical and religious culture, than the Big Easy?
We walked through Jackson Square and viewed the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. There are also numerous other churches in the French Quarter area, along with cemeteries and the Old Ursuline Convent Museum. Further down Decatur Street is the Joan of Arc Monument, which was a gift from France in 1972. The statue depicts the warrior saint holding her banner bearing the names of Jesus and Mary in victory. New Orleans is the namesake of Orleans, which was defended by Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years’ War.
We also had time to wander through the French Market, which reminded me of my dear faithful friend, Mary, who passed away from breast cancer in 2017. She was a native of New Orleans and the last time I visited the French Market was with her before we both married. Her friendship was truly a gift, and I cherish our many memories of laughing, crying, and praying together.
The roots of Catholicism run deep in New Orleans. The city celebrated its Tricentennial in 2018, and the history of the Catholic Church in Louisiana goes back nearly as far. Louisiana was a colony of both France and Spain at different times before the Louisiana Purchase, and the settlers were to be loyal to the Catholic Church to be faithful subjects, which solidified the Faith as a way of life for them.
Two other shrines which are definitely worth visiting in New Orleans are The National Shrines of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos and Our Lady of Prompt Succor. The Seelos Center houses a shrine and a museum honoring the “Cheerful Ascetic,” who was beatified in the Jubilee Year 2000 by Saint John Paul II. Blessed Seelos was a German Redemptorist priest with mystical gifts who became an itenerant preacher, assigned to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans in 1866. He was known for his joy and love of the poor, and he died of yellow fever in New Orleans in 1867 after patiently suffering the disease.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, or “Quick Help,” is the patroness of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. The statue is a resplendent gold and stands high above the alter at the shrine. Locals and pilgrims come asking her intercession for protection from misfortunes, illnesses, and calamities. The Ursulines had a devotion to Our Lady under the title of Prompt Succor, and after the victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the nuns promised to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving to her on her feast day of January 8, a tradition which still endures today.
It was a fantastic day, and I would definitely recommend a visit to the historical and religious sites in the city of New Orleans if you are ever given the chance. Visitors can’t help but be captivated by the excitement and spirit of the city.