New Orleans History: Our Lady of Prompt Succor

Photo Couertesy of AnneDale.com

In a city of monuments like New Orleans, you’ve got to be something special to have the designation of “national” placed before your name.  Such is the case of the “National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”

What makes this shrine, located on the uptown campus of Ursuline Academy on State Street, so special is that a Mass has been celebrated each January 8 (viewed by Catholics as the feast day of Our Lady of Prompt Succor) for the past 197 years by the Archbishop of New Orleans. The yearly mass is the fulfillment of a promise made by the Ursuline nuns as General Andrew Jackson and a small army of 1,000 men, supplemented by a ragtag band of about 3,000 pirates led by the infamous Jean Lafitte, along with various and sundry other citizens of New Orleans, took on 8,000 crack British troops in the swamps of Chalmette.

Jackson’s commandos engaged in what was called the “key battle of the War of 1812.” Never mind that the Treaty of Ghent, supposedly ending hostilities, was signed two weeks earlier. Word was slow in getting to General Jackson and his lieutenants in the field.

Still, by all odds, Jackson and his men didn’t stand a chance against the polished, hardened British troops who were led by General Edward Packenham, one of Britain’s top military commanders. The British marched smartly through the swamps in their bright red uniforms head for what they figured would be a ‘quick dust up’ before moving into the city of New Orleans.

In the face of those seemingly insurmountable odds, the Ursuline sisters began a night of prayer at their convent in the French Quarter asking “Our Lady of Prompt Succor” for General Jackson and his men. The full night of prayer ended with Mass at sunrise and a promise made to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady or Prompt Succor each year in Thanksgiving.

During Mass, a runner came from the battlefields at Chalmette and burst into the ceremony to thank the sisters for their prayers and to announce that General Jackson’s forces had thoroughly vanquished the British and New Orleans had been saved.

Jackson, of course, became President of the United States. After he left office, “Old Hickory,” as Jackson was known because of his toughness, visited the quiet convent of the Ursuline sisters to thank them in person for their prayers for what he called a “miracle victory” on the Chalmette battlefield.

“As a native of New Orleans, this story, this miracle, is especially poignant to me,” says Sister Carla Dolce, O.S.U. Prioress of the Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans. “I can’t begin to count the number of people who have sent petitions to Our Lady of Prompt Succor over the years asking for her intercession in sickness and in financial and family matters.  The stories are heartbreaking, but the faith they show is heartwarming. It all goes back to that battle so long ago, and to General Jackson and his brave determined men. The enemy put its faith in weapons. General Jackson and those men under his command put their faith in God and in His mother.”

The shrine where so many thousands of men, women and children come from all over the world each year to place petitions and to pray will be the site of a major celebration in 2015 – The Bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans.

“It will be a great celebration, but there must be major renovations first,” Sister Carla says. “The ravages of time and our sub-tropical climate, not to mention so many storms and hurricanes, have left a great deal of damage over these many years. We must first replace the roof and do so many repairs to the interior to make the shrine ready for the bicentennial and beyond. When 2015 is over, the faithful will still come to petition Our Lady of Prompt Succor. If we don’t make these repairs now, the damage that is already there will only get worse. We can’t let that happen. This shrine represents more than just memories of a battle fought. This shrine is a national treasure. A landmark of faith of the people of New Orleans. So many, many troubled and hurting  people come to the Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor filled with faith. They leave with hope. ”

Sister Carla says the cost of restoring the shrine will run about $2 million and that a campaign to raise funds has already begun.

Donations and petitions may be sent to:

National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor
Preserving our heritage! Promising our future!
2734 Nashville Ave.
New Orleans, La. 70115

Tours of the Shrine at 2701 State St. (just off of S. Claiborne Avenue) may be arranged by calling  (504) 975-9627. Mass is celebrated each weekday at 5 p.m. Saturday Mass is at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday Mass is at 9:30 a.m.

Information about annuities, wills and long-term support for the restoration and maintenance of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor may be obtained without obligation by contacting Peter Quirk, executive director of the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans at:

1000 Howard Ave.
Suite 700
New Orleans, La. 70113

or by calling (504)-596-3063.  E-mail inquiries may be made at pquirk@archdiocese-no.org.

For more information on the historic National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, please contact the shrine website.