Sunday, February 12, 2006

Swampish Goes to Mass

I went to Mass today. It has been a while; no weddings or funerals in my life for some time, I guess. But I went today because I had heard some bad news about a church I had always wanted to visit. St. Augustine's, in the Treme, is to be closed. Since even before I moved to New Orleans, St. Augustine's has been on my list of New Orleans things to do. It's a list that's shorter since the storm; some things I won't be able to do now. But I still hadn't managed to make it to St. Aug's.

One reason is that attending the Sunday Mass there is a real committment: no half-hour quickie service for these folks. The gospel-jazz Sunday Mass is legendary, as is the charismatic pastor, Father LeDoux. I had heard of his ranging, stirring sermons, the powerful music, the Kiss of Peace--in my experience a brief, staid series of handshakes and mumblings of "peace be with you" directed at the people within arm's length--during which the parishoners spilled out of the pews and greeted everyone in the church. St. Augustine's is not, let us say, your typical Catholic church. It is, in fact, the oldest African American Catholic church in the country. And it is a deep and variegated slice of what New Orleans means.

Looking around the church is a glimpse into New Orleans history. The parishoners are every color of coffee, from the richest French roast to the brightest au lait, and a latte or three with some international flavors. Once, it is said, the cultured Creole elite of St. Augustine sat proudly in the center pews, while slaves occupied the side pews. And now, St. Augustine's is among those cultural tourist attractions that European tourists seem to discover long before their American counterparts.

And, more importantly now, St. Augustine's represents something of the real New Orleans. The congregation is small but fervent; they're slowly coming back from Houston and Atlanta and all points North. The choir is powerful, of course, but it isn't a show choir of professional musicians. With the exception of Sun Pie of the Louisiana Sun Sports, they are just average parishioners with above-average voices, praising in the way they know best.

And now this, too, may pass. Another vestige of the real New Orleans may become a historical footnote. So, I went to Mass, and I'm going back. Father LeDoux may be back next Sunday, and I don't want to miss it. And for me to attend Mass twice in the same month must count as a minor miracle on some scale. Maybe it should contribute to the beatification of Fr. LeDoux; maybe enough of these minor miracles, and he'll reach the stature of Fr. Seelos, and then they'll have to keep St. Augustine's open. The time is ripe for a miracle or two down here.


Blogger craig said...

Amazing post, Troy.

7:25 AM  

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