Can you talk about the archdiocese’s role in working with WYES, Tom and Gayle Benson, the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Meraux Foundation on a project to place 45 markers of historic sites around the city to celebrate the Tricentennial of the City of New Orleans?
It’s an intriguing and very beneficial project that will give tourists and locals alike the opportunity to learn more about the rich history of City of New Orleans as well as the Catholic Church, which grew up side by side for the last 300 years. At each of the historic sites, a black-and-gold plaque will be installed. The plaque will have a QR code that will allow anyone with a smart phone to use the code to immediately view a two- or three-minute video, produced by WYES, of the historic site. All you have to do is put your cellphone there and the video comes on. At least nine of the historic sites are connected to the Catholic Church: St. Louis Cathedral, Cabrini High School and Orphanage, St. Patrick Church, St. Mary’s Assumption Church and Father Seelos Shrine, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, St. Augustine Church, St. Louis Cemeteries No. 1 and No. 2, and the Old Ursuline Convent/St. Mary’s Italian Church. This is an opportunity for us locals to refresh our minds about the history of the city. The videos are very detailed, so all of us will be learning things for the first time. It’s a wonderful project that will enrich our celebration of the city’s Tricentennial. I saw a portion of the video on the cathedral, and it was great. I believe the videos will help us as New Orleanians remind ourselves of the rich history of New Orleans and how it intertwines with the church. The producers have spent three years on this project, and I think we’re very blessed to be the beneficiaries of a lot of hard work. We are grateful to WYES.
You talked at St. Louis Cathedral about the connection between the saints in heaven with the Saints on the football field.
The cathedral is a place of saints, but it’s the saints up there in heaven. We believe the saints up there are praying for the Saints on the field, and we look forward to the Saints giving it their best.
What’s your connection to the Bensons and football?
I was at the Super Bowl in Miami in 2009. Even Archbishop Hannan, who was 96 years old at the time, was at the stadium for the Saints’ victory over the Colts. That was extra special because Archbishop Hannan said the prayer before the first Saints’ game in 1967 against the Los Angeles Rams at Tulane Stadium. He always liked to say that the Saints were beating the Rams until he had to leave for a confirmation, and they wound up losing! Before the Super Bowl in 2009, we had a Mass on the morning of the game. That game turned out to be one of those nail-biters, but it was a great experience. We look forward to the same thing this year. It would be a blessing for the Saints – and for the city – to go to the Super Bowl again. I sound like a coach here, but we have to take it one step at a time, one game at a time.
How important has the Bensons’ philanthropy been to the city?
They have a great touch to know what the city needs and also to provide the resources to help address those needs. The Bensons are not only very generous, but they also are people of faith. As Gayle said, she and Tom met here in St. Louis Cathedral when she was a lector at Mass. Whatever they do is not only an indication of their generosity, but they also pray for and ask for God’s blessings in whatever they do. One thing many people probably do not know is that whenever there is a Saints game, whether it’s in New Orleans or on the road, Mr. Benson always arranges for a Mass to be celebrated for his staff and guests. If the game is out of town, he will call and arrange to have a priest celebrate Mass.
So, is your message to people to keep their cellphones handy?
I suspect that a lot of New Orleanians will go to these spots and come to a deeper appreciation of the history of New Orleans and the church. We as the church are privileged to be a part of this because the City of New Orleans and the Catholic Church have been very closely connected throughout these last 300 years. There’s no other city that has a cathedral as its icon. That’s one of the things that makes New Orleans so special.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.