New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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1997 Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel

To be precise, this photo should be entitled 'the former site of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel in the Garden District,' since the building no longer serves as a chapel. The Redemptorist Fathers sold the building, located on the corner of Prytania and Third Streets to author Anne Rice. Rice owns several other properties in that block of Third Street, and this will expand her private compound in the Garden District. The sale of the property raised the ire of many of the folks who attended Sunday Mass at the Chapel for years.

A bit of history is in order at this point. The Garden District and the Irish Channel have had an interesting history as a Catholic parish. Originally, this area was the City of Lafayette, a separate municipality just upriver from New Orleans. This is why you might have heard the Garden District referred to as New Orleans 'first suburb.' There were three main ethnic groups living in this area: the Irish, Germans, and Creoles (French/Spanish). Since none of these folks wanted to go to church with the others, three churches were built to serve the community. Most of you probably have already heard of St. Alphonsus and St. Mary's Assumption churches. These served the Irish and Germans, respectively. The French-speaking Creole population was never that big, so they didn't build a big church like the other two. They initially had a church on Jackson Avenue, which burned down in the early 1800s. That was replaced by Bon Secours Chapel on Jackson until 1920. That's about when the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel came into the possession of the Redemptorists. The Third and Prytania location kept the tradition alive up until last year.

As mentioned earlier, there was a bit of an uproar from the community when the Redemptorists announced the sale of the chapel to Rice. Many of the folks who attended Mass there weekly felt a strong sense of betrayal, because the priests didn't give them a chance to save the building themselves. (Given the Redemptorists' attitude of bailing out of Uptown over the last twenty years, I wasn't surprised that they sold the place. It's interesting these people felt betrayed.) Mrs. Rice didn't help the matter anyway, when she released a statement essentially calling the folks who used the chapel elitists, and suggested that they re-join St. Alphonsus parish and attend Mass over at St. Mary's. (On a side note, I suspect that some of the ambivelence on part of the Garden District residents towards Rice's campaign against Al Copeland's Straya restaurant is due to this little fight over the chapel.) To an extent, Rice is correct; these Garden District residents would make a significant physical, spiritual, and financial contribution to the parish. On the other side of the coin, they've been essentially their own parish for well over a century and a half. It's hard to call someone an elitist who's just going to church in the same place their grandparents and great-grandparents went.

The story does have a bit of a happy ending for the parishoners of the chapel, however. When this all broke last year, we ran a feature photo on the Original St. Mary's Church, which is now the mortuary chapel in St. Joseph Cemetery #1 way up on Washington Avenue. There was talk at the time of the neighborhood trying to move the old church building from the cemetery back to some location in the Garden District. I didn't think much would come of this notion, but it seems that the idea will soon be a reality. The neighborhood put together a plan, got a lot on Jackson Avenue donated for this purpose, and the Archdiocese approved the move. The chapel building has been removed, board for board, from the cemetery, and will soon be re-built over on Jackson Avenue. I can't wait to see how the project turns out.