ST. AUGUSTINE - GREAT NEWS!!!!!
Risen: St. Augustine parishioners learn their parish is off probation
by Bruce Nolan, The Times-PicayuneSunday March 01, 2009, 1:36 PM
Three years after they launched a desperate effort to save their Catholic parish from closure, members of historic St. Augustine Parish in Treme got official word Sunday: They are off probation and back on solid ground.
The Rev. Quentin Moody made the announcement at the conclusion of 10 a.m. Mass to a crowd of worshippers who interrupted his announcement with shouts and applause.
Among them were lay leaders who three years ago dug in their heels and resisted Archbishop Alfred Hughes' decision to close the wounded 168-year-old parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The resistance morphed into a 20-day occupation of the St. Augustine rectory by young hurricane relief workers sympathetic to parishioners' pleas.
Hughes relented after a bitter public standoff. He told parishioners they had 18 months to stabilize the parish and to meet certain ministry, finance and education benchmarks indicating parish vitality.
The old congregation in one of New Orleans' most historic neighborhoods is a cultural jewel. From its earliest days, white merchants, free black artisans and slaves worshipped there together. It was home to civil rights heroes Homer Plessy and A.P. Tureaud and pioneer jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet.
For that reason, the fight for St. Augustine gathered national attention as national and European media watched New Orleans grapple with its Katrina wounds. Part of that story was how much energy weakened New Orleans institutions, including the church, could invest in saving badly damaged cultural treasures unique to the city.
The battle to save St. Augustine was in some ways a precursor to struggles by other parishes that would come two years later as the archdiocese continued its Katrina reorganization and closed other Catholic communities.
The fights to save two of those parishes, St. Henry and Our Lady of Good Counsel, also provoked physical occupations of buildings in late 2008, but this time the archdiocese held fast to its closure plan.
St. Augustine would prove to be the only parish to survive an initial decision to close.
Moody's announcement Sunday was that they had reached the probationary benchmarks, and that Hughes had converted his title from the temporary "parochial administrator" to pastor.
The parish today has about 510 families and is financially self-sufficient, Moody said. But he told parishioners the archdiocese will review its status in six months -- still a more frequent inspection cycle than other parishes undergo.
The final verdict comes 27 months after Moody arrived at St. Augustine in late 2006.
The news was greeted by a typical St. Augustine crowd -- racially mixed, with a blend of white and black New Orleanians and out-of-town visitors.
Sunday, a couple dozen young hurricane relief volunteers absorbed the jubilant worship among white and black New Orleanians who swayed and clapped through a Mass infused with up-tempo Gospel and African American spirituals, despite the solemn Lenten season.
Moody had hardly closed the Mass when he plunged the congregation into "Down by the Riverside," led by pianist Carol Dolliole LeBlanc, who for two years commuted from Houston to Treme every Sunday to play at St. Augustine.
"Look at this crowd," said parishioner Marge Paletou, who also fought for the parish three years ago. "This is where we really get to know one another. It's where stereotypes fall away. It's the way church is supposed to be."
Bruce Nolan can be reached at bnolan@... or 504.826.3344.