‘Praying for a Miracle’ opens at Old Ursuline Convent

The power of prayer during the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, adorns the walls of the Old Ursuline Convent, the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, which is a miracle in itself, having survived two devastating fires that destroyed most of the French Quarter in the late 1700s.

The Ursuline Sisters who came to New Orleans in 1727 with a special devotion to the Blessed Mother under her protective title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor are featured in a new exhibit, “Praying for a Miracle: The Catholic Church and the Battle of New Orleans.”

Tied to the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, the exhibit opened Oct. 11 and will run through May 30, 2015.

It tells a story of prayer, led by the Ursulines and the women of New Orleans, and the events before, during and after the decisive battle in which a small contingent of American troops and New Orleans citizens decimated highly trained British troops at Chalmette Plantation, ending the War of 1812.

“This is our special look at the role of prayer in the victory in the battle of New Orleans,” said Father Philip Landry, rector of St. Louis Cathedral and director of the Catholic Cultural Heritage Museum at the Old Ursuline Convent. “We are celebrating a proud and truly miraculous moment in our history as a nation, as a city and as a church.”

Four teaching rooms
Archdiocesan archivist Dr. Emilie Leumas said the story will be told through documents and artifacts exhibited in four rooms: the Ursuline Sisters; the “call to prayer” and the battle; the story of Our Lady of Prompt Succor; and the 11 Louisiana churches named in honor of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.

Some of the message will be shown through letters written by Joseph O’Conway, a New Orleans-born physician who was reared in Philadelphia only to return to New Orleans shortly before the battle. On Jan. 9, 1815, he wrote a letter to his father describing the victory, which many did not think could be accomplished.

“Let all Europe hear that the elite of those troops, who boasted having carried the most redoubtable fortresses in Spain and achieved the dethronement of the Emperor Napoleon, have been defeated in sight of the city of New Orleans by a heterogenous description of farmers, merchants, lawyers, boatsmen, tailors, doctors, clerks,” O’Conway wrote. “Let them learn what immortal honors have been gained by the heroes of New Orleans.”

Messenger brings the news
The exhibit also includes notations from the Ursuline archives about gathering for Mass at the convent chapel (no longer in existence) at 6 a.m. on Jan. 8, 1815, with Father William Dubourg, who later would become bishop of New Orleans.

“During Communion, a messenger runs in from the battlefield crying, ‘Victory is ours!’” Leumas said. “At that moment, everyone drops to their knees. Following Mass, the ‘Te Deum,’ which is the prayer of thanksgiving, is said. Father Dubourg and the Ursulines make a promise to commemorate that victory every year by reciting the ‘Te Deum.’”

At an opening gala Oct. 10, the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center also honored long-time board chairwoman Barbara Turner Windhorst with the Cardinal Francesco Marchisano Award, named for the late cardinal who was president of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology and the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. Cardinal Marchisano came to New Orleans in 2004 to dedicate the Catholic Cultural Heritage Museum.

Windhorst praised the late Msgr. Crosby Kern, who launched the center with an eye toward promoting Catholic culture.
“Praying for a Miracle” will be open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through May 30, 2015. General admission is $10. Group and school tours are available. Call 529-3040 or go to old ursulineconvent.org.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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