Marists served New Orleans area for 150 years

   The Marists will celebrate their 150-year history in the New Orleans area Sept. 12 on the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary with a 5 p.m. Mass at St. Michael Church in Convent, La. Father Michael Keating, the provincial of the Marist fathers and brothers of the United States, will concelebrate with other Marist priests. A parish reception will follow in the church hall.
    “We had a long, long history in New Orleans,” Father Keating said. “It was missionary work in the early days – building the church through much of the 19th century – and education.”

  Father Keating said it was the laity of the River Region that suggested and planned this Mass of Thanksgiving to show their affection for the Marist priests who have served them for more than a century.
    “It was an honor that the laity put it together,” Father Keating said. “They have wonderful memories of the Marists. Generations and generations of people had Marists in their life. The Marists are in the genes of that area.”
Hidden mystery
    The Marists order, formally called the Society of Mary, was founded in France in 1836. They were sent as missionaries to America in the 1860s at a time when immigrants began arriving.
    “We came into the United States just as the church was pulling itself together,” said Father Keating. “There were not that many Catholics here. It was mostly a Protestant nation. We were helping to build the structure of the church in the United States.”
 New Orleans Archbishop Jean Marie Odin was first to invite the Marists to America in 1863 to care for the French Catholics who had settled along the Mississippi River in Convent, near Baton Rouge (then part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans). Fathers Henri Bellanger and Joseph Gautherine quickly ingrained themselves among the French-speaking people in the region.
    “We came to take on the parish of St. Michael, and about a year later, we were asked to pick up the administration and teaching duties at nearby Jefferson College,” Father Keating said.
Abp. Blenk connection
    One of Jefferson College’s graduates, James H. Blenk, became its president and later the archbishop of New Orleans. Father Keating said Archbishop Blenk’s legacy includes systemizing the Catholic school system in New Orleans, unifying and standardizing the Catholic educational board and establishing a Marist presence in southern missions.
    At the end of the Civil War, the Marists were asked to take over St. Bartholomew (now Holy Name of Mary Parish) on the West Bank of New Orleans. From there, other mission churches such as St. Julian Eymard developed, Father Keating said.
    Around the turn of the century, the order expanded westward and formed missions throughout the United States, including in Atlanta, West Virginia, Maine and the Northeast at a time when French Canadians were flooding into that region looking for jobs.
Assumed N.D. Seminary
    In 1924, the Marists were placed in charge of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. The school’s first rector was Marist Father Charles Dubray.
    Father Keating said several Marist professors at the seminary made major contributions to the church and the community while here. One was Father Joe Costello, a seminary professor who taught moral theology and helped Archbishop Joseph Rummel write a pastoral letter explaining the importance of integrating schools.
Father Vince O’Connell was well known for labor organizing throughout the region. Father Ellis DePriest was a seminary liturgist, master of ceremonies for archdiocesan liturgies and was head of the liturgy department for the archdiocese. The Marists ran the seminary until 1967, when diocesan priests assumed its administration.
College became Manresa
    The Marists ministered at St. Michael’s and Jefferson College – which after Loyola University opened was later bought by the Jesuits and turned into Manresa – and at Notre Dame Seminary, Holy Name of Mary and St. Julian Eymard in the archdiocese. They also established a Marist community and seminary formation house on Jackson Avenue in New Orleans and remained active in New Orleans until 1996, when lack of personnel forced withdrawal from the birthplace of their American ministries.
    The Marists also ministered at St. Joseph in Paulina, Assumption Parish in Cottonport, Immaculate Seminary in Lafayette, Sacred Heart in Gramercy and St. Edmond in Lafayette.
    Several Marists, including Father Mariano Rizzuto, who pastored St. Michael’s in Convent for a decade and was the last Marist pastor there, and Father Charles Girard remain in New Orleans. Father Edward Fuss resides at Sacred Heart in Gramercy.
    “The Marists had a good relationship with the people, and they enjoyed having them in terms of advice or friendships,” Father Rizzuto said. “The Marists expressed a welcoming sense to the people.”
    The Marist priests and brothers in the U.S. – of which there are currently 110, with almost half remaining active – were unified into one province in 2009. They remain in 21 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States where they run schools, parishes, campus ministries, hospitals and social service ministries, lay and seminary formation and university education.
    The Marists continue to operate two large schools – Marist School in Atlanta, founded in 1900; and Notre Dame School in Pontiac, Mich.
     Other provinces in the world where Marists work are Australia, Canada, Europe, Mexico, New Zealand, Oceana and districts in Peru-Venezuela, Brazil, the Philippines and Africa and a superior generalate in Rome.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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