This Good Friday I got this urge to just go by myself and do the traditional pilgrimage at nine New Orleans churches. But I determined that I wasn’t going to go all over town to do it and end up at the St. Louis Cathedral as is customary. Nope. I was just going to go to churches right in my neighborhood and try to do it in an hour.
Some folks go all out and get with a group of friends or family, don backpacks with supplies and trudge from one church to the other saying a station or two of the Stations of the Cross and each chruch on the way to the French Quarter, making their final station at the cathedral in Jackson Square. But I didn’t have the time nor inclination to go all out and just determined that I was going to do it on my own and drive in my nice white, air-conditioned Mercury Marquis from place to place.
My Own Little Pilgrimage at Nine New Orleans Churches
Here’s what I did: I started at Mater Dolorosa and using my booklet I get each year at Manresa Retreat House I said a couple of the stations. Then hopped in the car and made it to Holy Name of Jesus on St. Charles at the Loyola Campus and did a couple stations there. Being that there are fourteen Stations of the Cross one has to figure out how to spread them out over the nine churches one visits. Not that complicated though.
After Holy Name I drove on over to St. Francis of Assisi, a big gorgeous church on State Street near the river. I sat for a few moments and drank in the beautiful serenity and said a few silent prayers.
Next stop was St. Stephans on Napoleon Avenue which is where I encountered the most people as this church seems to be a major stopping point for other pilgrims on their way downtown. This church is huge and stunningly beautiful with gigantic side altars and in the aisle a statue of a Jesus reclining in a death pose with two kneelers for the faithful at which to say their prayers.
I made a call to a friend of mine for suggestions as to where to go next and got out my little Manresa booklet and made a list of possible churches to visit. Then I met another friend who was bicycling with a friend from church to church and suggested that my next stop should be the chapel at the Poor Claire convent after visiting St. Henry’s just three blocks away from St. Stephens.
St. Henry’s is one of several churches was closed Archbishop Hughes, a man not very well-liked in this community who has since retired and been replaced by the more likable Archbishop Aymond. The wound from the closing of the church is still pretty raw in this community as it seemed its closure was strictly a political decision having little to do with money since the church was solvent and had much support from its congregation.
When members of the congregation staged a 24 hour vigil for several weeks to protest the closing Hughes stepped in and had the police arrest several of the protestors, a few of them dedicated and devout women, leading them away in handcuffs. There were few in the community who did not think this was outrageous.
Anyway, when I arrived at the church they had tables set up with a clipboarded list you could put your name on to show your support. I asked if it looked like the church was going to reopen soon. A nice lady told me that they are allowing marriages and funerals and such but that Aymond was hesitant to overturn something done by the previous administration. Only time will tell.
St. Henry is a small church with simple lines and details and feels very cozy. I can see why its congregation wants to keep it open. I made one station here, walked back to my car and drove on over to the corner Magazine and Henry Clay to the Poor Claire’s convent.
The Chapel of the Poor Claire’s is very small and simple and can probably seat at the most about fifty people. I was the only one in there and said one station there. The Chapel is situated near the big iron gates by the convent entrance and there is a sense of peace and calm even though the sights and sounds of heavy traffic passes right in front. I wondered what the place looked like beyond the huge wooden doors at the top of the steps, how the sisters live. I imagined that they have a patio in the center and live a very peaceful, secluded life of prayer for the upliftment of mankind.
I hopped in my car and made my way up State Street to the chapel at Ursuline also known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Recently in the news owing to the visage of what clearly looks to be the upturned face of Jesus that appeared on a column near the altar, this chapel is beautiful with stunning, richly colored, stain glass windows. I said a couple of the stations here and after taking a few photos of the face on the column, which shows up better in a photograph than the naked eye, I drove on over to St. Rita’s at the end of Broadway Blvd.
St. Rita’s is the church where my grandmother, a convert, played the organ every Sunday. This church looks like something you might see in Mexico or the Southwest. Inside it’s open and airy with a lot of light and has a modern feel with a traditional aura. Here I said the eleventh and twelfth station and sat for a bit in silence.
My last church on this little adventure was St. Joan of Arc, only six blocks from my house. This church is one of a local black community and is simple and plain with creaky wooden floors but very inviting. I was the only one in there as I said the final two stations and sat for a moment in prayer.
I had done it. Although my original intention was to do it in an hour (ha, ha) I managed to do it in two and a half hours. Had I planned out a better route beforehand and known exactly which nine churches I was going to I could have done it in less time. But in one hour? I don’t think so.
My little pilgrimage at nine New Orleans churches was fun and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it and look forward to perhaps doing it again next year.
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