Rex celebrates New Orleans’ 300-year-old Catholic history

By Peter Finney Jr.

The city of New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras Feb. 13 with a nod to the 300-year-old city’s Catholic roots.

Five floats in Rex, which has been parading since 1872, had Catholic themes, including:

• St. Louis Cathedral, which was established in 1718, the same year the city was founded. Mass has been celebrated near the spot of the current cathedral for 300 years. Read Robert Cangelosi’s riveting history of the cathedral here, as published in the Clarion Herald’s tricentennial issue, “River of Faith: 300 Years as a New Orleans Catholic Community.”




• The Ursuline Sisters, who arrived from France in 1727, nine years after the city was established. The Ursulines founded the oldest Catholic school for girls in the U.S. Ursuline Academy in New Orleans is the oldest, continuously operated Catholic school in the country. The Ursulines also offered hospitality and financial support to religious communities that came after them.




• The Good Friday fire of 1788, which destroyed 80 percent of the city but did not damage the Old Ursuline Convent. One “wives’ tale” is that the priests of the cathedral refused to allow the cathedral’s bells to be tolled as a fire alarm because of the silence required on Good Friday. Cangelosi rebuts that supposition at







• Our Lady of Prompt Succor, the patroness of the city, whose intercession was invoked by outmanned American troops before their defeat of the British army in the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815.








• Venerable Henriette Delille, a free woman of color who was born in 1813 and founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842 to teach and catechize slaves at a time when doing so was prohibited by law. Venerable Delille’s cause for beatification is being reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.





And, now, we welcome the prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday. Happy Lent!


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