Skip to comments.Ursulines continue to keep promise made 190 years ago
Posted on 01/05/2005 4:29:57 PM PST by nickcarraway
The Ursulines, who had been educating the young women of New Orleans since 1727, had a teacher shortage in 1810 and solicited the help of the French Ursulines. Mother St. Michel Gensoul responded to their pleas, arriving from France in 1810 with several postulants and a near-life-size statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus.
This statue, commissioned by Mother St. Michel, depicts Mary and the baby Jesus with delicately painted features and curly brown hair and both wearing crowns. Mary has a rich gold garment and a short veil, while baby Jesus, suitably draped, wears little more than his crown.
Mother St. Michel commissioned the statue under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in thanks for the "quick and favorable" responses to her petition to join the nuns in New Orleans. She had promptly received the necessary permissions from both the bishop and the pope as well as the papers she needed to leave post-revolutionary France -- all within six weeks.
The statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor was placed in the chapel of the Ursuline Convent, then situated in the Vieux Carre section of New Orleans. Over the years Our Lady of Prompt Succor has bestowed numerous favors on those who have sought her assistance. One aspect of her popularity over nearly 200 years is reflected by the number of schools and churches that currently bear her name. Our Lady of Prompt Succor appears eight times on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) database of place names. There are four schools, three churches and one cemetery located variously in the civil parishes of Iberville, Jefferson, Rapides and St. Bernard. Four additional Prompt Succor names are not on the USGS but are listed in the Catholic Directory; they are located in Avoyelles, Calcasieu, Lafourche and St. James parishes.
The most spectacular manifestation of Our Lady of Prompt Succor's intercession occurred at the Battle of New Orleans. In the late summer of 1814, English troops successfully invaded Washington, D.C., setting fire to the city, burning the Capitol and other federal buildings -- a preview of their next move to rebuild their North American colonial empire.
Gen. Andrew Jackson, in command of the Gulf Coast region, received intelligence reports on these British troops: "twelve to fifteen thousand men intending to attempt the conquest of Louisiana" were sailing south. Jackson set out for New Orleans, arriving on the first of December, almost two weeks ahead of the British. He was determined that the British would not take New Orleans, but the New Orleanians were not so uncompromising. Faced with the prospect of having their city devastated by superior forces and with virtually no fortifications, many New Orleanians were willing to surrender their city in order to save it. Even in late December as the British were nearing New Orleans (which was then the capital), the legislators wanted to sue for peace. Jackson, understanding their interests lay with their city rather than the nation, responded that he might make the next meeting of the legislature warm indeed. Later he explicitly stated his position: if New Orleans surrendered, he would torch the city to better fight the enemy after the retreat. The residents understood.
Before the British arrived and with only a few thousand men currently under his command, Jackson called in Kentucky and Tennessee sharpshooters. He negotiated the help of 1,000 Baratarian pirates led by Jean LaFitte (yes, 1,000 according to Jackson's biographer Remini). He created and armed (much to the distress of local residents) two battalions of free men of color and even enlisted the aid of 18 Choctaw.
By the time the English force was sighted at Ship Island on Dec. 12, the Louisiana militia, responding to the general's call, had joined Jackson's forces in the field. Military action leading to the Battle of New Orleans began. In the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 8, while soldiers prepared for battle, the citizenry prayed. Public prayer services were held in all Catholic churches to ask for God's protection.
The Ursuline nuns, of course, cooperated. Joined by weeping, terror-stricken wives, mothers, daughter and sisters of Jackson's small army, the Ursuline nuns prayed through the night with the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on display. That morning of Jan. 8, 1815, while Abbe Dubourg was offering Mass, a messenger from the battlefield rushed in with news of the victory. The Mass of Petition ended as a Mass of Thanksgiving with all who had prayed convinced of the miraculous intervention of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. When the battle ended, even Jackson could not believe the casualty reports were correct; they showed only 71 American casualties (6 dead, the rest wounded or missing) compared to 2,036 British casualties (with estimates as high as 700 dead). The battle had lasted only two hours; it was over by 8:30 a.m.
After the victory, Our Lady of Prompt Succor was not forgotten. Jackson and his staff visited the convent thanking the sisters for their prayers and their charity in nursing the wounded. In addition, Jackson personally wrote to Abbe Dubourg that the victory was "a signal intervention from Above" and requested a public thanksgiving service be held at the cathedral.
The Ursulines honor their patroness annually. Mother St. Marie's promise to remember Our Lady of Prompt Succor's assistance is still in effect nearly 200 years later. Mother St. Marie Olivier de Vezin, Mother Superior of the Ursulines, made her famous declaration on behalf of the community as the battle raged. If the Americans were victorious at the Battle of New Orleans, forever after, she promised, on each 8th of January, a Mass of Thanksgiving to Our Lady of Prompt Succor would be celebrated in the convent chapel. This 189-year-old tradition has been observed annually since then, and it will be again this year, 2005. The Mass will be celebrated at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, at the chapel of the Ursuline Convent, now located at 2635 State St. on the campus of Ursuline Academy.
Sources: Gayarre's American Domination; Baudier's Catholic Church in Louisiana; WPA's Louisiana, A Guide to the State; Davis' Louisiana, The Pelican State; Chase's Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children; Remini's Andrew Jackson; Catholic Directory; http://www.ursulineneworleans.org/shrine.htm.
Nice to see this posting. 3 generations of my wife's family attended the Ursiline school in New Orleans.
My mother attended an Ursuline boarding school in Lucca Italy in the 30's and 40's. I have not been able to find out anything about it and it is closed now.
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