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History

GoNOLA Find: St. Augustine Catholic Church

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St. Augustine Church (Photo: Paul Broussard)

An area steeped in history and made famous nationally by the hit HBO show of the same name, the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans lies just outside of the French Quarter. Once known as “Back of Town,” this neighborhood is one of the oldest in the city, and it is home to this week’s GoNOLA Find: St. Augustine Catholic Church.

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St. Augustine Church (Photo: Paul Broussard)

St. Augustine Catholic Church hosts the oldest African-American Catholic parish in the United States. Originally established by the free people of color who called the neighborhood home in 1841, this church was one of the first 26 places to be added to the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. (Congo Square and the French Market are also on the list.)

The church was designed by the same architect who worked on the expansion and renovation of St. Louis Cathedral, J.N.B. de Pouilly. Some of the church’s more famous parishioners include civil rights activist Homer Plessy, jazz musician Sidney Bechet and Mardi Gras Indian Allison ‘Tootie’ Montana.

One notable feature of the church is the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. During St. Augustine’s early days, the free people of color who worshiped there bought two rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use and join them in worship. In 2004, the church dedicated a shrine to the many slaves who joined them there, and who met their untimely end in this neighborhood during the days of slavery.

The church is located at 1210 Governor Nicholls St., just one block outside of the French Quarter. Mass takes place each Sunday at 10 a.m.; services tend to run longer than a traditional Mass, so allow for extra time.

Mallory Whitfield is an artist, speaker, and author based in New Orleans. In 2016, she was honored to be included in the 19th class of Gambit’s 40 Under 40, which salutes the brightest innovators, artists, and professionals in New Orleans. She currently hosts the Badass Creatives podcast, which features marketing and business advice for creatives, as well as interviews with a diverse range of handmade artists, performers, makers, and creative entrepreneurs. During Mardi Gras, you can usually find her parading with Noisician Coalition in Muses or with The 501st Legion in Tucks.

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