The oldest church building in New Orleans is the Mortuary Chapel, now called Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. This venerable little church located at the corner of North Rampart and Conti Streets, dates from 1826. It has had a most eventful history during the nearly 200 years of its existence. It was built as a funeral church; then a church for Italian immigrants; and still later a church for the Spanish speaking population. For the last half century it has been noted as a shrine dedicated to St. Jude and a ministry to the homeless.
In the Beginning
Three times it has been temporarily abandoned – in the 1860′s, in the 1870′s and again in 1915 – and three times it has been returned to service. It is truly the church that would not die.
From 1796 on, almost annually, Louisiana and particularly New Orleans was stricken by epidemic diseases, mostly brought by trading ships from Mexico and the West Indies. Between 1817 and 1860 there were twenty- three yellow fever epidemics. The 1817 epidemic resulted in the formation of a city Board of Health to cope with the health hazards in the fast-growing Crescent City. No one in the early days knew what caused yellow fever; both the medical profession and the public were unaware of the role played by mosquitoes. They could find no logical explanation for the spread of the horrible disease.
As a result there were many theories as to the cause of the spread of yellow fever; the chief one being that poisonous effluvia from the swamps or from filthy city streets infected the atmosphere; some believed that exhalations from the dead at funeral services and the transporting of the dead through the streets spread the dread disease. This latter theory resulted in the passage of a city ordinance on March 22, 1821, forbidding the placing on view (laying out) of the dead during the funeral service at any church, from 1st of July to 1st of December. The ordinance, it was claimed, was aimed at protecting the health of the people, especially those who frequent churches. The city at that time was predominantly Catholic and Catholic funerals had to be held at the Parish Church of St. Louis since it was the only Catholic parish church in New Orleans.
The church was much frequented and both the cathedral wardens and the city fathers believed that the establishment of a church solely for funeral services and near the cemeteries then in use – St. Louis No. 1, founded in 1789 and later St. Louis No. 2, founded in 1823 – would solve two problems at one time. Accordingly, in 1819 the council offered to sell at a reasonable price to the wardens of the church two lots of ground on Rampart Street at the corner of Conti for the construction of a chapel destined to receive the bodies of deceased persons in order to proceed with religious ceremonies preceding their burial instead of transferring them toward that end to the Parish Church, such transfer being prejudicial to the public health.
The sale dragged on, then finally was consummated on December 20, 1825. The price of the lots was a modest four hundred twenty-five dollars which was paid in cash. The wardens then inserted an advertisement in the Louisiana Courier inviting architects and builders to come forth and present their plans and estimates of the cost.
A Building Contract
Some of the best known architects and builders of the day competed: Gurlie and Guillot; Francois Correjoiles, the architect who, about the same time, was designing his most notable project – the Beauregard house (now 1113 Charters Street); William Brand, a skilled builder, who later constructed the Grima House (now 820 St. Louis Street); and James Moony and M. Lissuate who all submitted plans and estimates.
The wardens awarded the contract at a price of fourteen thousand dollars to the French architect-builders, Gurlie and Guillot, who had done work for the wardens before, having completed the second floor of the Presbytere in 1813. In addition, the firm had built a new convent for the Ursuline nuns in lower New Orleans. The wardens, also impressed with the pains taken by architects Brand and Moony, awarded them each fifty dollars for their trouble.
Cathedral records show that on Tuesday, October 10, 1826, at half-past eight in the morning Friar Antonio de Sedella (Pere Antoine) solemnly placed a cross at the spot that the altar of the chapel was due to occupy. The following day, at half-past five in the evening, Pere Antoine headed a procession of his priests from the church of St. Louis with Mayor Roffignac, members of the City Council, the president and wardens of the church to the site where – with due solemnity – the first stone was set and blessed. That historic day was October 11, 1826.
In less than a year the chapel was nearing completion and on August 26, 1827, the wardens wrote to the City Council informing them of the fact. The wardens then also reminded the council that there should be a “police regulation on the part of the City Council in order that it might completely fulfill its objective….”
As a result, the council at its session of September 25, 1827, adopted a resolution that, from the first of November next “it is forbidden to transport and to expose at the Parochial Church of St. Louis, any dead body, under pain of a fine of fifty dollars.”
The Day of Dedication
The structure that resulted was sturdy but not spectacular in design. Its principal attractions were as triple-arched facade, reminiscent of the first story of the Cabildo, and its stubby belfry, surmounted by a low dome and cross. Three substantial doors set in fan-lighted frames marked its entrance and the small nave was lighted by twelve windows with rounded tops.
The great day of the blessing of the new chapel at last arrived and Pere Antoine duly entered the occurrence in the Cathedral Book of Funerals, 1824-1828, page 226. This reads:
Today (XX Sunday after Pentecost) [the] twenty-first day of the month of October of this year of one thousand eight hundred and twenty seven: I, Fr. Antonio de Sedella, Capuchin priest, Vicar General of this Diocese of Louisiana and parish priest of the church of St. Louis of this city of New Orleans, accompanied by my vicars and the rest of the employees of the said church, followed by the Honorable Mayor and members of the Council of this city, likewise by the illustrious President and wardens of the said Church of St. Louis, proceeded to the Blessing of the Chapel of St. Anthony of Padua, built at the expense of the aforesaid Church of St. Louis, by resolution of its most estimable and zealous wardens, for and to the sole end of entrusting [for burial services] the bodies of the faithful deceased Catholics in general, which blessing was performed with all the solemnity that the Roman Ritual prescribes for that purpose, and in order to record it as an epoch for posterity, I sign it in the same day, month and year as above.
The first funeral to take place in the Mortuary Chapel was held on All Saints’ Day, 1827. It was that of Doctor Joseph Elbram who had died the day before. Dr. Elbram was a doctor of medicine, a bachelor; the place of his birth was left blank in the notice that Father Bernard Permoli signed in the Book of Funerals at the St. Louis Cathedral.
In the beginning, no one was allowed in the chapel except the priests and altar boys, who performed a mass for the dead, and the pall bearers who carried their burden into and out of the building. The victim’s family, in black, with the women heavily veiled, as was the custom, observed the scene through the open doors of the church. Later on, the mourners were allowed to enter the sanctuary but, for many years, no pews or seats of any kind were ever installed.
The Funeral Church
An interesting eye-witness account of a funeral service in the Mortuary Chapel, and perhaps the only such account that has survived, was written in 1835 by Joseph Holt Ingraham under the non-deplume, “A Yankee.” In a book called The Southwest he wrote:
I entered Rampart Street….and as I passed down the street to where I had observed, not far distant, a crowd gathered around the door of a large white stuccoed building, burdened by a clumsy hunchbacked kind of tower, surmounted by a huge wooden cross.
On approaching nearer, I discovered many carriages extended in a long line up the street, and a hearse with tall black plumes, before the door of the building, which I was informed, was the Catholic chapel.
Passing through the crowd around the entrance, I gained the portico, where I had a full view of the interior, in which was neither pew nor seat; elevated upon a high frame or altar, over which was thrown a black velvet pall, was placed a coffin, covered also with black velvet. A dozen huge candles, nearly as long and as large as a ship’s royalmast, standing in candlesticks five feet high, burned around the corpse mingled with innumerable candles of the ordinary size, which were thickly sprinkled among them, like lesser stars, amid the twilight gloom of the chapel.
The mourners formed a lane from the altar to the door, each holding a long, unlighted wax taper, tipped at the large end with red, and ornamented with fanciful paper cuttings. Around the door, and along the sides of the chapel stood casual spectators, strangers and Negro servants without number. As I entered, several priests and singing boys, in the black and white robes of their order, were chanting the service of the dead. The effect was solemn and impressive.
In a few moments the ceremony was completed and four gentlemen, dressed in deep mourning, each with a long white scarf, extending from one shoulder across the breast, and nearly to the feet, advanced, and taking the coffin from its station, bore it through the line of mourners, who fell in, two and two behind them, to the hearse which immediately moved on to the graveyard with its burden, followed by the carriages, as in succession they drove up to the chapel and received the mourners….
Leaving the chapel, I followed the procession which I have described for at least three quarters of a mile down a long street or road at right angles with Rampart Street, to the place of interment. The priests and boys, who in their black and white robes had performed the service for the dead, leaving the chapel by a private door in the rear of the building, made their appearance in the street leading to the cemetery, as the funeral train passed down, each with a mitred cap upon his head, and there forming into a procession upon the sidewalk, they moved off in a course opposite to the one taken by the funeral train, and soon disappeared in the direction of the cathedral. Two priests, however, remained with the procession, and with it, after passing on the left hand the ‘Old Catholic Cemetery’ [St. Louis No. 1], which being full to repletion, is closed and sealed for the ‘Great Day’, arrived at the new burial place [St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.]. Here the mourners alighted from their carriages and proceeded on foot to the tomb. The priests, bare-headed and solemn, were the last who entered, except myself and a few other strangers attracted by curiosity.
During the epidemics of the early 1830′s the Mortuary Chapel served the purpose for which it had been built.
1840’s and 1850’s
In 1853 an epidemic of yellow fever of monstrous proportions occurred. In the month of August alone nine hundred sixty-seven persons died during the first week; twelve hundred eighty-eight fell during the second week; thirteen hundred forty-six in the third and twelve hundred forty- three during the fourth week. Most of the deaths occurred among the un-acclimated immigrants who lived in crowded tenements or in flimsy shacks often lacking simple sanitary facilities. But in 1853, the native born who had considered themselves immune to the disease were attacked by ‘Bronze John’ and even the blacks, long thought to be exempt from the disease, contracted yellow fever. Writing in The Diary of a Samaritan, William L. Robinson, a member of the Howard Association, described the epidemic. The Howards were a group of young men who banded together to help the unfortunate victims of the plague)
The whole city was a hospital, and every well man, woman and child was instrumental, in one way or other, in relieving the sick. The streets were deserted save to the hasty pedestrian on an errand of mercy. The rattling of an omnibus and the swing of a doctor’s gig, as either rapidly passed, were the only disturbing sounds. The vociferations of the coalman, the knife-grinder, and of other callings that enliven the thoroughfares, were silenced by disease or fear.
The morning train of funerals, as was the evenings, crowded the road to the cemeteries. It was an unbroken line of carriages and omnibuses for two miles and a half. The city commissary’s wagon, and the carts of the different hospitals, with their loads of eight or ten coffins each, fell in with the cortege of citizens. Confusion and delay at the cemeteries were unavoidable. The sun’s heat and putrid exhalations were sickening to the sense. All manner of experiments were used to diminish the aggravation of disease. Tar was set on fire around and in the cemeteries, and lime profusely thrown on the cracked and baked earth covering the coffins in the trenches. The Board of Health, in an unthoughtful moment, adopted a suggestion of firing cannon throughout the city to disturb the atmosphere. This was not continued beyond the first day, as it was attended with melancholy results upon the nervous systems of the sick and convalescent. Any expedient to escape a worse pestilence would have been admitted. The miasma from neglected streets, combined with continued diminution of the vital principal in the atmosphere, from even a short exposure to putrefaction before burial of 1186 dead the first week of August, 1526 the second, 1534 the third, and 1628 the fourth, may well excuse far-fetched theories of disinfection. The gasworks threw open to the use of the citizens their stores of tar. Besides those quantities used in the yards of private houses, drays were engaged to drop a half barrel of tar at distances of 150 feet in the middle of Canal, Rampart, and Esplanade Streets.
At sunset, when all were simultaneously fired, a pandemonium glare lighted up the city. Not a breath of air disturbed the dense smoke, which slowly ascended in curling columns until it reached the height of about 500 feet. Here it seemed equipoised, festooning over our doomed city like a funeral pall, and there remaining until the shades of night disputed with it the reign of darkness. These experiments did not visibly diminish the ravages of the pestilence.
Of the Mortuary Chapel, he wrote:
The funeral service on the part of the Catholics was commonly performed in the chapels. The one contiguous to the graveyard on Rampart Street was a thronged receptacle of the dead and their mourners during the day until after dark. Thence arose the mournful Miserere, filling the air with its melancholy influence, and heightening still more the universal despondency and sadness.
Chapel of Ease, too!
By 1841, in addition to its original function as a funeral church, the Mortuary Chapel served in the capacity of a chapel of ease to the St. Louis Cathedral. This is borne out by records in two registers of the chapel dating from 1841 to 1856 and by some loose documents of marriages performed which had not been entered in the registers. These records are in the St. Louis Cathedral Archives. The first baptismal record dated July 4, 1841, is of the baptism of Mary Casserk, daughter of Peter Casserk and Bridget Flinn. The first marriage took place on September 13, 1841, between Jacques Maker and Marie Jamet.
The earliest group receiving First Communion partook of the Sacrament on May 26, 1844; and there are also records of baptisms of both free people of color and slaves.
That the chapel was functioning as a church is also evidenced by the fact that a Sermon of Charity was preached by an Abbe Daust on January 16, 1841, in response to an appeal in the newspaper, The Courier, for financial help to rebuild a portion of the Asylum for Destitute Orphan Boys, on Jackson Avenue in suburban Lafayette, which had suffered a fire some days before.
Father Felix Loperanzo was in charge of the Mortuary Chapel until his death, November 14, 1840. He was succeeded by Father James Lesne.
Father Lesne served through the terrible epidemics of yellow fever of 1847 and 1853 until 1854, when he was transferred to Waggaman, Louisiana. After that time, the chapel gradually lost its importance.
1856 until 1865
No records have survived concerning the Mortuary Chapel and it can be assumed that the church had been abandoned during these years.
New Life for an Abandoned Chapel
In 1865, as the Civil War came to an end, Father Pere Isidore-Francois Turgis, a chaplain of the Orleans Guard Battalion, reopened the chapel, with the blessing of Archbishop Odin, to serve the spiritual needs of returning Confederate soldiers. Pere Turgis took up residence in an apartment at the rear of the chapel. At once he gathered about him a host of warm and devoted friends. At the chapel, day after day, Pere Turgis said Mass with many members of his old outfit kneeling around. Of him, in his delightful little book, in and Around the Old St. Louis Cathedral, Father Celestin Chambron wrote:
The walls of the little church and presbytery could unfold the most beautiful tale of brotherly love, could they speak, for the small pension allowed Father Turgis was all distributed in alms to the old and helpless Confederates who used to call him their Guardian Angel.
About the quaint old confessional were grouped every Saturday night the old soldiers whom he had followed so faithfully during the bloody war. Around the Communion table they would gather, and the few survivors who are still among us love to relate how evening after evening found no less than fifteen or twenty of the old soldiers gathered in his room at the presbytery just back of the chapel. They represented every creed; they loved him and delighted to recount with him the days that so bitterly tried their hearts and souls.
One of Pere Turgis most cherished aims was the establishment of an asylum for the widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers. The fruit of his efforts was the founding of the Marigny (also called Beauregard Asylum) and his start of a society of the Children of Mary. (After his death, Pere Turgis asylum for the Orphans of Confederate soldiers was taken over by the Sisters of Mt. Carmel).
Pere Turgis was always frail and even before he returned to New Orleans, he suffered with a stomach ailment which grew worse with each succeeding year. In early 1868 he made his will and selected a spot in the St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 in which he wanted to be buried. Toward the last, long suffering had ravaged his features, but he could still manage an ineffable smile. The end came on the morning of March 3, 1868, when he died just a month short of his fifty-fifth birthday in the little room back of the chapel.
There are no records of a successor to Pere Turgis and no records of baptisms, marriages, or funerals in the Cathedral archives. It is very probable that from 1868 to 1873 the church was not in use.
The Italian Renaissance
There stood on the north side of Esplanade Avenue between North Peters and Decatur Streets – opposite the United States Mint – a small frame church called the Church of the Resurrection. It was in a neighborhood which by the 1870′s was becoming a section occupied by Italian immigrants. These people came in such large numbers that Archbishop Napoleon Perche designated a as a church for Italians. The priest in charge was Father Horace Cahone and his assistant was an Italian priest, Father Joachim Manoritta. By the early 1870′s the congregation had outgrown the church and Archbishop Perche decided to convert the Old Mortuary Chapel into a church for Italians, to be known as St Anthony’s Chapel. He placed Father Manoritta in charge as rector.
After Father Manoritta’s departure, for eleven months, until October 1, 1903, St. Anthony’s Church was placed temporarily in the charge of Father Conrad Widman, a Jesuit.
The Age of the Dominicans
The year 1903 marked a great change at the little church. In that year, Father Thomas Lorente, O.P., and members of the Spanish Dominican Order came to St. Anthony’s. Archbishop Placide Chapelle who had been appointed charge d’affaires and later Apostolic Delegate in the Philippine Islands at the turn of the century, had formed a warm friendship with Father Lorente while in the Islands. He was so impressed with Father Lorente’s work that he asked him to become his secretary and when he returned to his See in New Orleans, Father Lorente came with him.
Archbishop Chapelle, invited the Dominicans to make a foundation in New Orleans. Father Lorente was made Superior of the community and the Church of St. Anthony was confided to his care.
The Dominicans removed the dome on the top of the belfry and added the steeple.
Catholic historian, Roger Baudier served for five years as an altar boy at St. Anthony’s under Father Lorente. Among his notes are a few paragraphs which describe his memories of the services conducted there in this period.
I remember well, the many brilliant ceremonies for various feasts, especially those of the various Italian societies: the feasts of St. Augustine, St. Bartholomew, St. Anthony, St. Joseph and several feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary….
Brass bands were used in the church and they played during the Elevation. Among odd customs was the blessing and distribution of (St. Anthony’s) bread – I remember passing the trays around the church.
In November there was a triduum (three days devotion) and huge paintings of the Souls in Purgatory were hung in the sanctuary. There were special services, usually a triduum, also before the feast of the Holy Rosary, and the whole congregation sang a very stirring hymn: Nostra Senora del Santo Rosario.
(These) quaint….ceremonies of old Italy were carried out at St. Anthony’s Church – ceremonies that immigrants from a distant land fondly remembered and treasured and (were) thrilled to find (were) still carried out in the land of their adoption.
Father Lorente was a profound scholar, doctor of theology and canon law, a master of the Spanish, French, Italian, and English languages. He was of a bright and cheerful disposition and his kindly manner won him friends among people of all races and religions. He was fortunate in having as his assistant at St. Anthony’s from 1904 to 1912 a close friend from boyhood, Father Casimir Municha.
A register of burials from St. Anthony’s Church for the period January, 1895, through April, 1914, is in the cathedral’s archives. A record of baptisms and marriages shows that the last baptism – of Jone Barone – took place on August 29, 1914. The last marriage celebrated at St. Anthony’s that of Joseph Natal and Laura Lestrade, took place on August 25, 1915, just before the church was closed.
By 1915, New Orleans had spread far beyond its original borders. For various reasons – particularly the church’s proximity to the notorious Storyville, the ‘red light’ restricted district, then in full blast, and its proximity to the Terminal Railroad Station – Archbishop Blenk determined to close St. Anthony’s Church on North Rampart and erect a new parish to be called St. Anthony in back-of-town New Orleans. St. Mary’s Italian church on Chartres Street was to receive the communicants of St. Anthony’s and it was rumored that the Old Mortuary Chapel was to be sold.
For about five years after the Dominican Fathers had departed from the Old Mortuary Chapel, the church was again deserted.
But it did not die.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate
In 1918, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate with headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, were invited to the archdiocese by Archbishop John W. Shaw. Archbishop Shaw had seen and had been impressed by the work of the Oblate Fathers, especially among the poor, when he was Bishop of San Antonio
The St. Louis Cathedral, St. Mary’s Italian Church, and the Old Mortuary Chapel were placed in their charge. The name of the chapel was changed to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Archbishop meant to provide a church for Spanish-speaking Catholics. Father Jules A. Bornes, O.M.I., was given the post of the first Oblate administrator.
Father Bornes was born in Clermont, France, August 3, 1880. His classical studies were made in Courpiere and he entered the Oblate Fathers novitiate in Angers in 1900. He was ordained in the Oblate Seminary in San Antonio in 1905 and served churches in various Texas cities.
During World War I Father Bornes served as an officer-instructor in the French Army. He later went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to instruct American troops in the use of field artillery. He returned to France where he served as an interpreter with the American forces.
In August, 1921, he came back to the Oblate Southern Province and was assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. He brought a vigorous personality to the crumbling but historic church. When he first came he enlisted the aid of friends and they proceeded to clean up the old church which was full of broken plaster and the debris accumulated after the years of disuse. Plans were made to restore the ancient church and soon funds were raised to lay a new floor, replaster the time-worn brick walls, and redecorate the entire structure. Lifelike statues soon adorned the church and devotees came in to pray to their favorite saint and light a candle. Statues of the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, St. Martha, St. Expedite, St. Michael, St. Peter, St. Raymond, and St. Anthony, drew an exceptionally large number of the faithful for daily prayer. In time, the feet of many of the statues were deeply worn by the custom of supplicants placing a hand on the statue while they were praying.
Located between the church and the adjacent rectory is a Marian Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, built by Father Bornes, OMI in 1924. At first, sermons were preached in Spanish and English but the expected Mexican colony for whom the church was meant, never fully developed. The result was that the church had to depend on passersby, friends and tourists who were drawn to it to pause and spend some time in prayer.
In the early 1920′s adjacent to the church on Rampart Street was an old three story building which had originally been a store with living quarters above. It was bought by the church and transformed into the St. Vincent Hotel, a hostel which in the 1920′s would provide lodging for transient men. A salvage shop was also operated in connection with the hotel and the guests would scour the city to collect old newspapers, used clothing and discarded furniture which were sold in order to help operate the hotel.
The International Shrine of St. Jude
Devotion to St. Jude Thaddeus – known as the patron for difficult and apparently impossible cases was cultivated by a group of parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church who had petitions granted through the Apostle’s intercession. This group was encouraged by Father Bornes to begin a public Novena in honor of St. Jude. Father Bornes obtained ecclesiastical permission and the first devotions were inaugurated on Sunday, January 6, 1935. An authenticated relic of St. Jude was given to the church by a friend and a small statue of the saint, which had been in the rectory for years, was placed in a side niche. As devotions increased, a new lifesize statue of St. Jude was placed in a shrine where it remained at the far end of the communion rail, until the new St. Jude Shrine was built in 1976.
Good News and Bad
Two events in 1941 occurred which had profound effects on the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first was that the Federal Iberville Housing Project, on the site of the infamous ‘Storyville’, was completed. Some eight hundred fifty-eight families moved into this area and since eighty percent of them were Catholic, a substantial number of the parishioners came to worship at Our Lady of Guadalupe. The second event was the resignation of the ailing sixty-one year old Father Bornes who had been administrator of the church for twenty years.
Father Bornes was succeeded by Father Joseph P. Laux, O.M.I. Father Laux was born in San Antonio, Texas, on July 29, 1906. He attended Catholic grade and high schools and in 1925 entered St. Peter’s Novitiate, Mission, Texas. He took his first vows as an Oblate in 1926, continued his studies and was ordained in 1931. After serving churches in Houston, he was sent to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in New Orleans as an assistant to Father Bornes. When Father Bornes became ill, Father Laux was appointed Administrator.
New Rectory and Hall
Reconstruction in the chapel still waited while the St Vincent Hotel of the 1920′s (west of the chapel) was demolished and a new rectory constructed in its place. Also destroyed was the old rectory in the rear of the church on Conti Street. This ancient structure was not large enough to house the increased staff of the church and the space was needed to prepare to extend the church building. In June 1949 construction of the new rectory and hall was begun.
On the night of September 25, 1944, a fire broke out in the church on the right side of the sacristy. Fortunately, firemen controlled the blaze in a few minutes but not before the altar, sacristy and sanctuary had been damaged. As this part of the church was slated to be removed to extend the building, temporary repairs were made until permanent construction could begin.
The Enlarged Church
After the rectory and hall had been completed, construction began on enlarging the sanctuary of the church from plans by Diboll-Kessels and Associates, Architects. Since the church was to be in continual use during construction, the contractors devised a temporary roof while steel beams were substituted for the wooden ones which had been in use for more than a century. Unfortunately, a four-inch rain in December, 1950, was too much for the makeshift roof and the church was inundated. In 1950, a heavy rain caused the old roof timbers to give way in one area and the church organ was destroyed. The wood beams were replaced with steel and a new Moller organ was constructed. During this era, Father Laux, the pastor, became the chaplain of the New Orleans Fire and Police Departments.
The enlarged and refurbished church was finally completed in 1952.
The rededication and re-blessing of the enlarged church took place on February 3, 1952, with His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph Francis Rummel, S.T.D., Archbishop of New Orleans, officiating.
Before permanent repairs began on the chapel, a new ministry began. Namely as crowds continued to attend the Sunday novena services, in October 1946, Mrs. Louise Carlson, owner of radio station WJBW, offered the facilities of her station to broadcast a novena live from the chapel. Father Laux had some doubts but accepted the offer of the broadcaster.
Through the years since the administration of Father Laux, other Oblates have guided the flock of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Father John Sauvageau (1960-1965)
Father Peter V Rogers (1965-1983)
Father John Franko (1983-1988)
Father Bill Zapalac (1988- 1998)
Father Joseph Ferraioli (1998-2000)
Father Michael Amesse (2000-2005)
Father Tony Rigoli (2005-present)
Father Peter Rogers expanded the church’s ministry into the nearby Iberville Housing Project and he also expanded the radio coverage of the St. Jude Novenas.
As pastor of the church, Father Michael Amesse made daily trips to the nearby hospitals of Tulane University and Charity Hospital. In his ministry, he also followed the lead of Father Rogers in the adjacent Iberville Housing Project.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005, Pastor Father Mike Amesse, O.M.I., Father Tony Rigoli, O.M.I., and Brother Profirio Garcia, O.M.I. went to incredible lengths to serve the spiritual needs of the New Orleans community in crisis. They eventually evacuated and were even ministering in the Houston Astrodome for evacuees.
Though the devastation following Hurricane Katrina took place back in August 2005, the Oblates continue to assist local residents who continue to return to the city with very little. Father. Tony Rigoli, OMI helps those who come to the parish door requesting emergency assistance with food and funds for transport.
At times, Father Tony receives help from visiting Oblates. In the summer of 2006, Bro. Emmanuel Bwalya, OMI, an Oblate seminarian from Zambia completing his philosophy studies in San Antonio, was sent to St. Jude’s to assist. He helped with the door ministry each day, listening, providing a plate of food at times, or referring visitors to a nearby organization for transportation assistance. He also takes Holy Communion to shut-ins, helps with an area youth summer camp, and assists volunteers in preparing damaged houses from the post-Katrina flooding for indigent and otherwise challenged residents who planned to have the interiors of their homes reconstructed.
Father J. J. Edward Thuraisingham, O.M.I. who works in Lahore, Pakistan to educate children in poverty joined the parish for an extended assignment from 2006 until 2008.
On Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 during the July Novena Services, there was a fire at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. While electricity was out for the church building, all Masses and services, including the Novena to St. Jude, continued to be held in the Rectory Hall. The electrical fire on the second floor was discovered before noon and quickly contained by the New Orleans Fire Dept. There were no injuries, and the sanctuary was mostly unaffected.
Currently, Father Tony and the O.M.I. Mission Team also works with Sr. Beth Mouch, MSC (Marianite Sister of Holy Cross), the Director of the St. Jude Community Center across the street from the church. The Community Center feeds the homeless and working poor breakfast and lunch (Monday – Friday) and provides a Second Harvest food program, a GED program and other services for the needy. On Saturdays lunch is prepared and served by OLG ministries and various organizations throughout the metro New Orleans area.
The Shrine also serves as a base of operations for students and organizations from around the country that come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city.