History of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish of New Orleans
A donation to our parish, the statue was created by Franco Alessandrini, Italy, and commissioned by a friend of Blessed Seelos. In the midst of the flames, the statue required restoration.
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, became a member of the Redemptorist Congregation and came to North America in the 1800's. Renowned for a special cheerfulness, Fr. Seelos was assigned to New Orleans and died after a short period in the city. Enough time, however, for him to make a major impact.
Blessed Seelos was buried with his brothers of the Redemptorist Congregation in New Orleans, where his National Shrine is now located, see: - The Seelos Center.
The church parish was named in his Honor on July 1st. 2001. The Church was dedicated in his Honor on December 9th. 2006.
Oddities of the new parish and Blessed Seelos are:
The founding Pastor of the new parish was a Redemptorist Student in the Irish Province and first heard of Fr. Seelos while with them. He had sought Fr. Seelos' assistance for 30 years prior to becoming Pastor!
During Fr. Seelos' time in New Orleans, the then Archbishop asked of the Redemptorists some assistance in ministering to the many Deaf Catholics of Southern Louisiana. Their community was put under the Patronage of St. Joseph. In the 1970's this community would become the first Deaf Parish in the world. Their name would become St. Gerard Majella Parish for the Deaf!. St. Gerard is a Redemptorist Saint.
This Parish for the Deaf was amalgamated into the new parish of Blessed Seelos in 2001, as the St Gerard Community and is the base of the Apostolate for the Deaf for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Our second pastor grew up in a Redemptorist Parish in San Juan Puerto Rico, went to a Redemptorist Elementary School, High School and received his doctorate from the Alfonsian Academy in Rome, an Institute of Moral Theology directed by the Redemptorist Community. He was also baptized on October 4th, the date of the death of Fr. Seelos.
Tragedy of Fire at Blessed Seelos Parish
On May 25th, 2003 our beautiful church was destroyed by a tragic fire. The pictures above depict the altar, murals and sacristy before the tragedy and then after. The main altar was destroyed and damages to the church are estimated to be over $2.5 million dollars. Partial restoration was completed by November of 2006. Complete restoration costs are over $4 Million.
St. Vincent de Paul Church is a federally registered Historical Building. Within the city of New Orleans it ranks as the 5th oldest Catholic Church, after Saints Peter and Paul (antebellum), St Patrick's, Our Lady of Guadalupe (the mortuary Chapel of the old city) and the St Louis Cathedral.
As a work of restoration, you can imagine the need for preservation not only of a building but as a worship space. When amalgamated with three other churches to form the first ever parish named after Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R.,its current resident Pastor committed himself to that work of preservation. As a result of the fire, that task has become all the more challenging to an inner city parish. Both parishioners and Pastor are nonetheless committed, from the sanctuary to the organ loft, from the floor to the ceiling. It is a patrimony of history, of worship and of the neighborhood that raised such an incredible space.
Daunting as it is, we are not ashamed to seek support from lovers of beauty, history, and Catholic worship; indeed to appeal to their loves for very concrete assistance in this endeavor. From the dollar to the check, one to thousands; all will be appreciated and needed to raise up again this Sacred Place.
Please consider helping us and send any donations to:
Blessed Seelos Parish
3037 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70117-6749
Your generosity is appreciated.
Stories from the Fire
I had been asked to hear confessions and celebrate Holy Mass for some 500 teenagers. Just as I prepared to vest for Mass, I was approached by our Parish Council president that the Pastoral Associate was on her cell phone and trying to get me. "It's a 911!"
On taking her call she said, "The Church is on fire." Well we had been preparing a lot for Pentecost! Realizing that I had not quite grasped its meaning she simply stated, "The Sanctuary is gone, Father, as is the sacristy, and as I talk a flash fire is devouring the artwork on the ceiling and the organ loft has just caught fire."
The Entrance song was beginning for the Mass!
I celebrated the Eucharist and then proceeded to the parish.
As I entered the smoke and water filled building, I will not forget what happened next.
Not quite able yet to take it all in, three firemen approached me. They were somber and tear-filled. The first spoke of how as he entered through the sacristy into the fire enraged Sanctuary, he heard some one call him. He turned to see, on its revered stand, the relic of Blessed Seelos that had been presented by Archbishop Schulte to the parish on the day of its founding. The fireman knew its significance and immediately rescued it, giving it in turn to the same Archbishop (now retired) who with his successor Archbishop Alfred Hughes was on the scene within minutes of the fire.
The Second recounted how as he entered he was surprised at himself and his speed as he went to the flaming High Altar to remove the Blessed Sacrament. He reverently brought the Holy Eucharist to Archbishop Hughes.
The Third, with voice trembling and cracking recounted how he entered the Sanctuary and backing into the nave of the church, suddenly felt "someone" tap him heavily on the shoulder. He was surprised because he knew no one had gone there before him. With that he turned. There was no one!! But in so turning he caught sight of the flash fire high above licking at the canvas artwork of the ceiling and racing towards the organ loft.
I smiled, I must say, because since 2001 when we became a new parish, I had said often to myself and others, "This is a sacred place and space of presence." Those present in that sacred reality made themselves known in their care for these men and the task they had to undertake.
How could I not restore!
Fr. Joseph A. Benson,
Pastor 2001 - 2011