Harry Tompson at the Altar

No one said a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass like Harry Tompson did.


Harry Tompson was a well-known Jesuit priest who in his last years served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church on Baronne Street (commonly known as Jesuit Church). During his tenure there he spiffed up the old church, lightening the interiors, making it look more Renaissance and less Dark Ages. He also started a nearby center for the homeless that now bears his name.

For whatever endearing qualities the priest had, he also developed a following because of his Midnight Mass. Having once served as principal at Jesuit High School, the Algiers native attracted a built-in constituency. The church was always full each Christmas Eve as the clock’s hands converged at the top of the dial. What really set Tompson’s Masses apart, though, was an amazing gift for timing. A Swiss watchmaker could have set time on Tompson’s Mass, which lasted exactly an hour and not a minute more. There was still the full ritual package: caroling, processions, incense and practically everyone going to communion, yet someone at the Mass could have gone home after it was over, turned the TV on and seen the Midnight Mass at the the St. Louis Cathedral still in progress.

So what miracle did Tompson perform to pack so much into so little time? It was the homily. When he spoke, everyone listened. They couldn’t avoid doing so. He bellowed so loudly that even those made sleepy by the hour or by spiked eggnog were jolted. Yet he spoke briefly as though there were an inner mechanism computing the allowable minutes to keep the Mass on time. Sometimes the homily seemed to end abruptly – suggesting perhaps that the internal buzzer had gone off – yet everyone got the message, which was delivered boldly with a touch of native accent.

(Tompson’s brevity, though admired, never came close to the daily masses performed by the late St. Pius X Church pastor Monsignor Arthur Screen who, for good reason, was known as “20 Minute Screen.”) By 1:30 Christmas morning everyone was gone and Jesuit Church’s doors were locked.

Appropriate to the moment the 100 block of Baronne St. was experiencing a silent night. Harry Tompson had spoken.

You Might Also Like

Refresher Course

Designer Chad Graci renews a Warehouse District condo with a nuanced blend of sophistication and comfort.

The Fresh That Binds

The Beatles And Me

What Mom Made

Recipes worth saving

Passionate for Penguins

Backstage Penguin Pass

Add your comment:

Latest Posts

Life's Curveballs

Musician Duke Heitger

Celebrate traditional New Orleans Jazz and the history of Jazz on the Mississippi.

Fall Falls Flat

I am the only person alive who hates autumn, I think.

So Fab

So everybody knows the Southern Food and Beverage Museum is cutting a ribbon on Monday, September 29, right?

Revolution, Evolution or Both?