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New Orleans, Now and Then

I have never been in a place quite like New Orleans. I was outside the cathedral down by the Mississippi River and a band, their brass instruments flashing in the sun, had set up between the tarot card readers and psychics. They played a jazzy version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and for weeks afterwards, I would catch myself humming or singing the snippet, “Oh Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in…”

In New Orleans, the history is as thick as the humidity, whether you’re browsing the tables of goods at the French Market, marveling at the architecture in the French Quarter, eating a muffaletta sandwich at the Napolean House, reading the back of a book at the Faulkner House Bookstore in Pirate’s Alley, or savoring a beignet and coffee at the Café du Monde. At St. Mary’s Dominican High School, you see history almost everywhere you turn—even the star shape in the paving stones around the courtyard fountain are aligned to Cabra, Ireland, where the intrepid Dominican sisters who founded the school traveled from in the 1860s. In a place overflowing with sights, smells, and sounds, having a compass to guide you back to your true north is a blessing. (Of course, this is not to say St. Mary’s Dominican High School is stuck in the past—I was so impressed with the robotics lab humming with activity as students brainstormed and built together!)

While the Director of the Office of Founded Ministries and I were there for a board meeting, the school’s president showed us a picture from more recent history: an aerial photo of the school during the flooding after Hurricane Katrina. The floodwaters have dried up, but there are still communities putting pieces back together so many years later. Just down the street from St. Mary’s Dominican High School, the Dominican Sisters of Peace established an outreach and learning center to empower and uplift the neighborhood that was also in that post-Katrina snapshot.

The work the Peace Center sets out to do reminds me of another New Orleans Dominican congregation that joined, with the St. Mary’s Dominicans and other congregations, into a new union as the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic marched and drove down roads and paddled down rivers and bayous to ensure the poor and the marginalized felt God’s loving presence and care. Now, children in the Gert Town area can visit the Peace Center after school for snacks and homework help, seniors can gather for community events, residents can receive spiritual direction, and more.

There also happened to be an all-seasons Christmas tree in the main room of the center—it was decorated for fall when I visited! Besides being charming, I feel it speaks to the evergreen nature of the presence of Dominican Sisters in New Orleans: in whatever season, under whatever circumstances, Dominican Sisters have been and will be there for the people of Louisiana, reminding them of the love of the Lord so that when the saints go marching in, they’ll be in that number.

4 thoughts on “New Orleans, Now and Then

  1. I have lived in New Orleans many years before moving to Columbus Ohio I can resound will you mentioned. My song. Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans ….

  2. Great re telling of our history in New Orleans and the new ways that we are serving Gods people! Thanks Claire!

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