Steeped in History—St. Augustine Church

The historic St. Augustine Church was founded in New Orleans in 1841 when the free people of color got permission from Bishop Antoine Blanc to build a church. The Ursuline Sisters donated the property at the corner of Bayou Road and Saint Claude, on the condition the church is named Saint Augustine, after one of their patron saints.

A few months before the October 9, 1842 dedication of Saint Augustine Church, free people of color began to purchase pews for their families.  When White Parishioners learned of this, they stared their own campaign to buy pews.  The War of the Pews began and was ultimately won by the free people of color, who bought three pews to every one purchased by the Whites.  In an unprecedented political and religious move, the colored members also bought all the side aisle pews. They gave those pews to enslaved men and women so they could too have a place to worship.

This mix of pews resulted in the most integrated congregation in the country: one large row of free people of color, one large row of whites with a smattering of ethnic folk, and two outer aisles of slaves. Except for a brief six month period when its sanctuary was being enlarged and blessed in time for Christmas, Saint Augustine Church has been in continuous use as a place of worship.

St. Augustine Church is also where  Henriette Delille, a free woman of color, and Juliette Gaudin, a Cuban woman, both of whom had been aiding the enslaved, orphan girls, the uneducated, the sick and elderly among people of color since 1823 took their vows on Nov. 21, 1842, and pledged to live in community to work for orphan girls, the uneducated, poor, sick and the elderly among the free people of color, thus founding the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family, the second-oldest African American congregation of women.

St. Augustine Church celebrated its 175th anniversary in October of 2016.

 

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