In New Orleans, the saints go marching on.
Since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, a small but vibrant Roman Catholic parish has entered the public eye. As the city's Catholic hierarchy struggled to deal with widespread damage to church property, the St. Augustine parish was slated to close in March and merge with the much larger St. Peter Claver parish several blocks east. But parishioners and supporters protested. "There are people who have roots in this church who are all over the country," New Orleans resident Joan Rhodes told The Louisiana Weekly. "You shut that down and you really are putting a knife in the heart of the culture."
St. Augustine was founded in 1841 by slaves and free blacks and through the years has also welcomed Creole, Haitian, French, and Spanish worshippers. Today, one result of this unique cultural ministry has been a Sunday morning service belying "America's most segregated hour," as people of many backgrounds, races, and ages gather amidst the stained-glass saints and oil paintings of Christ to sway and clap under the leadership of one of the city's best-known clergymen, 76-year-old Fr. Jerome LeDoux. In his 15 years at St. Augustine, Fr. LeDoux has established the parish as a focal point for New Orleans culture, integrating jazz music and African drumming and dancing into the worship, blessing local jazz groups, and holding festivals and special services to commemorate musicians such as Louis Armstrong.
To the relief of many, the parishioners of St. Augustine have gained an 18-month grace period to prove the parish's viability. Whether or not St. Augustine is finally allowed to keep its autonomy, it is the determination of congregations like this that will form the Christian backbone of ...