St. Roch Chapel repairs coming

Iconic St. Roch Cemetery will be the site of a Dec. 17 fund-raiser benefiting the restoration of its 140-year-old, Gothic-style chapel.

The outdoor event, featuring sales of cemetery-related items and guided tours of St. Roch Cemetery No. 1, will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., near the cemetery’s front entrance gates at 1725 St. Roch Ave.

Items for purchase will include poinsettias, baked goods and coasters and notecards illustrated with a new charcoal artwork of St. Roch’s entrance gates. In addition, small, softbound books on the history of St. Roch Chapel and Cemetery, by late archdiocesan historian Roger Baudier, will be priced at $12 per copy.

A slow cooker, entry passes to St. Louis No. 1 and a basket of cemetery-related items will be raffled off at the fund-raiser, while complimentary items will include candy canes, koozies and child-friendly stocking stuffers.

During the event, cemetery visitors will be able to take 20-minute tours of St. Roch No. 1 led by volunteer guides from Save Our Cemeteries. Free-will donations generated by the tours will benefit the chapel restoration project.

“St. Roch Cemetery was established in 1874 and has the only marble, life-size stations of the cross within any of New Orleans’ Catholic cemeteries,” said Cemeteries Office director Sherri Peppo.
Chapel is 140 years old

St. Roch Chapel, dedicated in 1876, was erected by Father Peter Leonard Thevis, pastor of German-speaking Holy Trinity Catholic Church, in gratitude for St. Roch’s intercession during the city’s deadly string of yellow fever epidemics. Closed for safety reasons since September, the chapel will be open to visitors during the Dec. 17 event.

Peppo said the extent of damage at the chapel will not be known until workers can look behind metal veneer plates currently sheathing the chapel’s interior walls, which are bulging out in several places. The restoration project also will address peeling interior plaster, compromised sections of copper roofing and extensive termite damage to the chapel’s magnificent altar, featuring painted scenes from the life of St. Roch.

The most recent repairs to the chapel were made in 2012, when termite-ridden beams in the attic were replaced with steel beams. The chapel’s marble floors appear to be in good shape, Peppo said.

The chapel also is famous for its room-size shrine containing replicas of body parts, left in gratitude or petition to St. Roch for healing. Born in 1295, French-born St. Roch devoted his life to caring for Italian victims of the Black Plague.

“In addition to the chapel being historic, (the shrine) is a very notable symbol to families who have prayed to St. Roch over the years,” Peppo said.
New mausoleum planned

In other St. Roch Cemetery news, construction will begin early next year on the new St. Joseph Mausoleum of 116 single crypts in the back of St. Roch Cemetery No. 2 (on Music Street, directly behind St. Roch No. 1).

“We’re waiting on the final permit to start construction in the next couple of months,” Peppo said, adding that the mausoleum ultimately will be adjoined by a garden featuring plantings, a bench and a statue of St. Joseph.

Peppo also shared the following events planned for this Advent at New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries:
• The office is currently accepting orders for six-inch poinsettia plants for placement on family graves. The plants will be placed by New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries staff from Nov. 28 to Dec. 16. The cost of each plant is $17.60 (tax included). Families must supply the location of their family’s grave.

• Based on its popularity last year, the Cemeteries Office will again place a memorial Christmas tree at the entrance of St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3, 143 City Park Ave. Beginning now, families can bring in a weather-proof ornament – or obtain a complimentary one from St. Patrick’s office – to hang on the tree in honor of a deceased loved one. Permanent-ink markers will be available so families can personalize their ornaments. The tree will be taken down at the end of December, so families wishing to retrieve their ornaments must do so by that time, Peppo said.

The Dec. 17 event at St. Roch will offer visitors an opportunity to become a Friend of New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries, benefiting the office’s general restoration fund, for a minimum donation of $25. For more information, call the Cemeteries Office at 596-3050.
            Beth Donze can be reached

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