Catholic Churches going on the block-an evaluation

Annunciation Church in the Marigny ( photo)

The Archdiocese of New Orleans is moving to sell or lease property in thirteen church parishes that were closed after the storm. This is a big step for the archdiocese and Archbishop Gregory Aymond, in that it indicates a greater willingness on part of the Church to work with neighborhoods to preserve buildings that were once community anchors.

Five of the properties to be put on the market are already vacant, victims of the storm: Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Orleans East, St. Robert Bellarmine in St. Bernard Parish, St. Phillip the Apostle in Gentilly, and two in Plaquemines Parish, Our Lady of Good Harbor and St. Anthony.

Of the remaining eight, St. Simon Peter in Da East and San Pedro Pescador in Florissant (St. Bernard Parish, down past Poydras) are literally in the middle of nowhere. Located on Gannon Road near Hayne Blvd. (past Bullard), St. Simon Peter would be a great neighborhood-anchor facility. Of course, the big problem is, will the neighborhood come back? Five years after the storm, Da East is such a patchwork of development and abandonment, it’s unclear.

Incarnate Word Church during the “snowstorm” of 2008 (wikimedia commons)

The other six properties run literally from one side of the city to the other. Incarnate Word, located in Hollygrove, was officially merged with Mater Delorosa on S. Carrollton in 2008, under Aymond’s successor, Fr. Hughes. There was a certain amount of logic in the parish mergers that were made after the storm, mainly because of the dwindling number of priests available. Still, a church is more than its priest, and the Incarnate Word church building has a lot of potential to continue as a Hollygrove anchor. The big question with facilities like Incarnate Word will be how much does Abp. Aymond want for it? It’s listed as “for lease” as opposed to outright sale. If a community group could put together a package that would cover insurance and operating costs, hopefully the archdiocese will take them up on it.

Blessed Sacrament Church, Uptown (wikimedia commons)

Moving east from Hollygrove, the next property with potential is Blessed Sacrament. Located on Constance and Soniat Streets Uptown, it’s good to see this building is listed as “for lease.” This is another example of a building with an infinite amount of potential if the right community group would step up and assume the expenses. The closure of Blessed Sacrament and its merger with St. Joan of Arc was, along with the closure of St. Henry’s, not one of the finest hours for Fr. Hughes and the business side of the archdiocese. This church means too much to the African-American community to demo it or to see it converted into a restaurant. Blessed Sacrament should follow the model of St. Alphonsus in the Irish Channel.

Another blow to African-American Catholics in New Orleans was the closure of St. Francis de Sales parish on Second Street in Central City. St. Francis is considered to be a “pioneer church” in that it was one of the church parishes established during the Reconstruction specifically to give roots to the black community. The parish grew out of St. John the Baptist, making for an easy solution to the incredible black-white mix of Uptown and Central City New Orleans. This is another lock, stock, and barrel sale-church building, rectory, shrine, and parish hall. Combine this with the rectory of nearby St. John the Baptist on the list and you’ve got incredibly solid property on the market in an incredibly bad part of town. The odds of the new owners getting shot in the crossfire of drug wars is higher in this neighborhood than most other parts of the metro area. The St. Francis complex could be a major anchor in restoring sanity to this neighborhood, but where to begin? As with any of these properties, someone has to pony up the archdiocese’s asking price before doing anything else. Tough to get investors excited about a war zone.  Perhaps someone from the very-vocal opposition that rose up when the parish was closed will step up.

St. Maurice’s in the Lower Nine, prior to the storm. ( photo)

Speaking of war zones, that’s pretty much the impression the world has of the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s a miracle that St. Maurice’s is standing in any condition. If the building survived the Federal Flood, the parish complex has historic value but as a community anchor. Since the L9 is where so many feel they can earn their “New Orleans merit badge,” one of the do-gooders should step up, buy the place, and use the facility to help along the rehabilitation of the area.

I’ve saved Annunciation (top photo) for last because it’s got the most personal connection for me. Located at Mandeville and Marigny Streets, Annunciation Parish was one of the “feeder” neighborhoods for St. Aloysius College, on Esplanade and N. Rampart. Even before the Brothers of the Sacred Heart established a permanent presence in the city, they used Annunciation as their base during the Civil War, which forced them to close St. Stanislaus College in Bay St. Louis, MS, to boarders. Now, as the Marigny and Bywater are returning, we should all be thankful to these communities for fighting as hard as they did when the archdiocese wanted to demolish Annunciation in 2008. Now, the church, rectory, and parish hall buildings are up for sale. With streetcars returning to this area, it’s only logical that such a facility will play a significant role in the renewal of the area.

I can’t help but wonder if the “gay-ness” of the Marigny is one of the stumbling blocks in terms of the church’s involvement in the area. There was no logical reason to tear down this church other than to sell it as a vacant lot. Did someone over on Walmsley decide that an empty lot in the hands of Teh Gay was better than an old church? I don’t know, but we are all fortunate that such a historic location was saved. The neighborhood associations should take steps to make sure a private investor doesn’t come up with what might be considered compelling reasons to tear it down.

Like everything involving property in post-storm New Orleans, there’s no black-and-white when it comes to these thirteen parcels of land. Still, with so much history in some of these “sliver on the river” churche, we have to make sure they stay a part of New Orleans for future generations.

NOTE: This is my first article for Da Girl Blog! I’m proud to bend the gender here, and my thanks to Charlotte for having me. 🙂


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