The rich history of St. Augustine Catholic Church dates back to 1834, when Jeanne Marie Aliquot, a French woman who pledged to aid Black New Orleanians, purchased the property — originally part of the Claude Treme plantation estate — from the city. The property exchanged owners several times — sold to the Ursuline Sisters in 1836, then the Carmelites owned the property in 1840. In 1841, with the blessing of New Orleans’ first archbishop, Antoine Blanc, the property would become St. Augustine, a place of worship for free people of color.

On October 9, 1842, St. Augustine was dedicated. It is the oldest Catholic parish “created for African Americans, by African Americans.”

Before the church was dedicated, prospective parishioners had a “war of the pews”  where white and Black worshippers competed on who could purchase the most pews for their families. The Black worshippers won the friendly competition by a three-to-one margin. This mix of religion and social class helped to create what would be known as the country’s most integrated congregation of that time.

Shortly after the dedication, in November 1842, Henriette Delille, a free woman of color, co-founded the second-oldest religious order for Black women, Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family. According to St. Augustine’s history, Delille and co-founder Juliette Gaudin, pledged to live in the community at St. Augustine and to work closely with free people of color and “poor, sick, elderly, and orphaned girls.”  

St. Augustine parishioners have included civil rights activists Homer Plessy and A.P. Tureaud Sr.

Amid damages and financial losses suffered as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Archbishop Alfred Hughes decided to close St. Augustine in 2006, prompting an outcry from parishioners and community members including Hurricane relief workers who occupied St. Augustine’s rectory for 20 days in protest of Hughes’ decision. After the church was successfully able to meet educational, financial, and ministerial benchmarks set by Hughes, its doors were reopened in 2009.  

In 2021, St. Augustine’s roof was badly damaged from Hurricane Ida. More than a year later, in December 2022, the church’s popular Christmas mass was held in a hall behind the church with a maximum capacity of 70 worshippers, Verite reported. It was a marked difference from previous services that attracted nearly 500 people.

Today, St. Augustine’s Sunday Mass services are held in the church’s parish hall.

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Shannon Stecker is a creative writer, a marketing director, and a lover of stories. She has spent the past 15 years of her career in a creative space – as a print and broadcast journalist, a freelance...