The Three Churches of the Irish Channel The father of a friend who lives in New Orleans offered to give us a quick tour. So we hopped in his silver pick up truck to begin the adventure for the day.
One of the spots we arrived in was Ecclesiastical Square in the Irish Channel neighborhood that consisted of two very large, very beautiful churches. One decommissioned and the other fully functioning. As the story goes, the Redemptorists arrived in New Orleans in 1843.
Redemptorists is a worldwide congregation of the Catholic Church, primarily focused on missionary work to less fortunate communities. New Orleans was experiencing a large inﬂux of Irish, German and French immigrants and they didn’t always get along. So the Redemptorists built three churches: St. Alphonsus (for the Irish); St. Mary’s Assumption (for the Germans); and Bon Secour, that is no longer standing (for the French).
We walked into the decommissioned St. Alphonsus Church and my mouth promptly hit the ﬂoor. Despite the slight smell of mold and decay, it was a feast for the eyes. Everywhere I looked I marveled at the sophisticated ecclesiastical Italianate architecture.
The murals, the statues, the pulpit. It’s hard for me to imagine the amount of money it took to construct this structure in a poor immigrant neighborhood. The more cynical side of me wonders how many people they could’ve fed with a fraction of this, I suppose they ﬁgured they were feeding souls instead. I’ll reserve my personal opinions on that for another time.
St. Alphonsus Church was completed in 1857 and after the merge with St. Mary’s Assumption, it was closed in 1979. The repairs needed for the church are quite extensive and incredibly expensive, so it’s no wonder the roof is deteriorating through the murals on the ceiling.
We had limited time, so we hopped across the street to St. Mary’s Assumption. We met a tour guide, but we were not on a tour. The tour was to come in a few minutes, but he generously offered to let us take a quick peak inside. St. Mary’s had a very different type of vibe, the colors of the interior were warmer, almost peach, the blues were very vibrant, some of the structures mounted in the columns looked like dollhouses.
We had even less time here, but on the way out we were stopped in the hallway leading to the Seelos shrine. She was a nun, about 4.5 feet tall, advanced in age and absolutely adorable. She asked where we were from and zeroed in on me like a hawk. She handed me an envelope and asked me to take it back to my local Catholic Church. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was not catholic or religious at all. I am in fact as far as possible on the other end of that particular spectrum. I also couldn’t tell her no. I later delivered
them to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Fayetteville, which I believe is the oldest church in Fayetteville. That wasn’t by design, my selection was based on a google search and an evaluation of which one was closest. All in all, the encounter and this leg of the trip were meaningful, interesting, and most importantly of all….art worthy.