St. Augustine Catholic Church in New Orleans
 
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Summary of Church History

The property on which St. Augustine stands was part of the plantation estate which had been a tilery and brickyard headquarters built in 1720 by the province of New Orleans’ supervisor, the Company of the Indies, as an economic stimulus for the province. After the Company of the Indies left in 1731, the plantation was sold to the Moreau family, eventually coming into the possession of Julie Moreau, a manumitted slave, in 1775. Claude Treme, a Frenchman, married Julie Moreau, thus taking title to the property. Seeing a chance to make a profit, the husband and wife subdivided the estate and sold off many lots on a first-come-first-served basis to free people of color and others pouring in from the Old Quarter jammed with Haitian immigrants fleeing the bloody 1791 revolution in Haiti.

After selling 35 lots, Claude and Julie Treme left their plantation home for a more peaceful life in 1810. In 1834, Jeanne Marie Aliquot purchased the Treme’s former home and property from the city of New Orleans and brought in the United States’ first Catholic elementary school for free girls of color and a few slaves. This school had been started in 1823 by Marthe Fortier, a onetime postulant of the Hospital Nuns. Jeanne Marie Aliquot became a major catalyst in the origins of St. Augustine Church.

Mount Carmel Motherhouse
Mount Carmel Motherhouse (circa 1923)
(Photo Courtesy of Sisters of Mount Carmel Archives New Orleans)

Under economic duress from her social ventures, Jeanne Marie sold the house to the Ursuline Sisters in 1836. They in turn sold the property to the Carmelites in 1840, who then took over the little school for colored girls and merged it with their school for white girls. The Carmelite Sisters used the Treme home for their motherhouse until 1926 when they moved out to Robert E. Lee Boulevard in the West End section of New Orleans.

In the late 1830s, when free people of color got permission from Bishop Antoine Blanc to build a church, the Ursulines donated the corner property at Bayou Road (now Governor Nicholls St.) and St. Claude which they had bought for $10,000, on the condition that the church be named after their foundress, St. Angela Merici. However, circumstances dictated that the church was named St. Augustine.


St. Augustine Classroom
St. Augustine Classroom
(Photo Courtesy of Sisters of Mount Carmel Archives New Orleans)

A few months before the October 9, 1842 dedication of St. Augustine Church, the people of color began to purchase pews for their families to sit. Upon hearing of this, white people in the area started a campaign to buy more pews than the colored folks. Thus, The War of the Pews began and was ultimately won by the free people of color who bought three pews to every one purchased by the whites. In an unprecedented social, political and religious move, the colored members also bought all the pews of both side aisles. They gave those pews to the slaves as their exclusive place of worship, a first in the history of slavery in the United States.

This mix of the pews resulted in the most integrated congregation in the entire country: one large row of free people of color, one large row of whites with a smattering of ethnics, and two outer aisles of slaves. Except for a brief six-month period when its sanctuary was enlarged and blessed in time for Christmas 1925, St. Augustine Church has been in continuous use as a place of worship until the present time.

In the midst of all these things, Henriette Delille, a free woman of color, and Juliette Gaudin, a Cuban, began aiding slaves, orphan girls, the uneducated, the sick and the elderly among people of color around 1823. Their particular concern for the education and care of colored children aided greatly in the founding, financing, staffing and administration of the city’s early private schools for the colored. At the urging of Jeanne Marie Aliquot and the wise counseling of Pere Etienne Rousselin, the two women knelt publicly at the altar of St. Augustine Church on November 21, 1842 and pledged to live in community to work for orphan girls, the uneducated, the poor, the sick and the elderly among the free people of color, thus founding the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family, after the Oblates of Providence founded in Baltimore in 1828, the second-oldest African-American congregation of religious women.

Historical figures such as Homer Plessy, of Plessy vs. Ferguson fame from the U.S. Supreme Court decision on May 18, 1896, and Alexander P. Tureaud, Sr., a giant among the civil rights attorneys of the stormy sixties, were members of St. Augustine Church.

 

1210 Gov. Nicholls St., N.O., LA 70116, (504)525-5934, Fax 523-2473.
Sunday Mass 10:00AM.




Henriette Delille, Foundress - Sisters of the Holy Family
Henriette Delille, Foundress
Sisters of the Holy Family



Early Rendering of St. Augustine's Altar
Early Rendering
of St. Augustine's Altar
Courtesy of
the Sisters of the Holy Family




Early Perspective View of Madonna Ceiling Painting - St. Augustine
Early Perspective View of
Madonna Ceiling Painting

Courtesy of
the Sisters of the Holy Family





"You Shall Know
the Truth,
and
the Truth
Shall
Make You
Free."
John 8:32

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