Perhaps one of the best kept secrets in New Orleans are the weekly jazz masses at historic St. Augustine Catholic Church, 1210 Gov. Nicholls St. Every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. St. Augustine's own gospel choir rings out a soulful version of the traditional Mass, and given the concentration of jazz musicians in the city, many in the St. Aug neighborhood, you just don't know who might show up to play on any given Sunday.
St. Augustine's was built in 1841 by Ernest Godchaux, on land donated to the diocese by the Ursuline nuns. It is located in the area of New Orleans known as the Faubourg Treme, the oldest primarily black neighborhood in the country. Creoles and free people of color contributed to its construction, and it is the third oldest Catholic parish church in the city. Although claimed by both the white and black congregations when it was completed, it is now regarded as the oldest African-American Catholic church in the United States.
Mardi Gras Mass
This past Sunday, New Orleanians were treated to a special Mass at St. Augustine's. The culture of our inimitable Mardi Gras Indians combined with the heritage of black catholics to result in a uniquely New Orleans rite. Celebrating both the 150th year anniversary of Mardi Gras as well as the church 's 163rd anniversary, jazz saxophonist and "Guardian of the Flame Mardi Gras Indian" Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. composed and performed a "Mardi Gras Mass." Famous New Orleans jazz musicians paraded with the Mardi Gras Indians, who were dressed in spectacular costumes, to exhibit the singular heritage of our "gumbo" city. The music mixes jazz, gospel, and traditional Indian chants into a ritual guaranteed to stir the soul.
Is It Over?
True, it is too late to attend Mardi Gras Mass here, at least for the immediate future. Nevertheless, the church is trying to raise awareness to its serious plight. A collection was taken up Sunday to benefit the restoration of St. Augustine, which was badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina. Unless roof repairs are made, it may be forced to close down. To spread this unusual culture and raise more funds, the Mass will be performed again in New York, at St. Augustine's in the Bronx, on February 26 at 10:00 a.m. St. Augustine's is at 1183 Franklin Avenue. Telephone 718-893-0072.
On Mardi Gras Day, Tuesday, February 28 all the tribes will gather in front of the New Orleans church to welcome home Harrison and the other musicians and Indians. If you will be visiting us for Mardi Gras, don't miss this event!