The 8th National Eucharist Congress
Image by Charles L. Franck Photographers, 1938. Provided courtesy of the Historic New Orleans Collection, Charles L. Franck / Franck Bertacci Photographers Collection, 1979.325.2489

The 8th National Eucharist Congress in America was held in New Orleans on October 17-20, 1938. This Catholic gathering drew large amounts of people to bear witness to the sanctity of the Eucharist and commune together through various avenues. While the religious aspect of the Congress was paramount, local civic and business leaders were even more excited for the number of people that the gathering would bring to New Orleans and the money they would be spending while visiting. 

Preparations started well before the event. Lectures were given by Archbishop Jospeh F. Rummel, renovations were made at St. Louis Cathedral, and temporary altars for visiting clergy were established in hotel lobbies and the Municipal Auditorium. The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women collected donations to create a monstrance, which would hold the consecrated Host. Contests were held to write the lyrics and music of the official hymn, as well as designs for the monstrance, the official emblem, and the altar to be erected in City Park. 

The first day’s mass started with a 6-minute speech by Pope Pius XI, transmitted via shortwave radio from Rome. While each day was filled with church services, meetings, exhibits, and more, the last event of the Congress was the largest: the 80,000-person, 2.7-mile procession from Canal and Salcedo Streets to City Park. Home gardeners along the route had been encouraged to plant flowers that would bloom in gold and white – the papal colors – during the October event. The Goodyear blimp Reliance flew overhead, broadcasting sermons, music, and recitations of the rosary directly to the procession via loudspeakers installed along the route. Led by grand marshal Major General Allison Owen, schoolchildren of all ages and 32 school marching bands followed. Next came the parishioners by parish, followed by the clergy, marching in ascending rank. Towards the end was papal legate Cardinal Mundelein on a richly decorated float whose design was inspired by Carnival parades, kneeling before the monstrance. The procession lasted about 5 hours and ended with adoration of the monstrance by the crowd waiting in the stadium in City Park.  

Multiple outdoor events were held at City Park stadium. Seating was doubled for the expected crowd and a new $25,000 floodlight system was installed to accommodate midnight mass services. The massive altar, was built on a stage with seating for over 500 clergymen. The cross on top was tipped with a fleur de lis.