National Shrine Founded in New Orleans
On the 29th of November 1980, the Members of the Grand Priory assembled in the City of New Orleans at the old Ursuline Convent, which forms the core of the Archbishop Antoine Blanc Memorial. This ancient convent, located in the heart of the French Quarter, was the site for the dedication of the National Shrine of the Order of Saint Lazarus in the United States.
The Archbishop Antoine Blanc Memorial was named after the first Archbishop of New Orleans, under whose administration the complex assumed its present form. The old convent was erected for the Ursuline nuns in 1745, by King Louis XV of France who was also the Royal Protector of the Order of Saint Lazarus. This historic structure was the first building in the Mississippi Valley.
The Ursuline Nuns staffed the Royal Hospital, the first hospital in the vast Louisiana Territory that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, and from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains. In this same facility were established the first convent in what is now the territory of the United States, the first day nursery, the first orphanage, and the first institution of Catholic charities. When the Ursulines moved to a new location in 1924, the convent became the home for the Bishops and Archbishops of New Orleans. It also served as a meeting place for the Louisiana legislature. The convent now houses the archives of the Archdiocese.
Our Lady of Victory Church
Adjoining the convent in the Archbishop Antoine Blanc Memorial is Our Lady of Victory Church, which was erected in 1845 as the chapel of the Archbishops of New Orleans. During the 1990’s, this church was restored to its original splendor; until hurricane Katrina in 2005, it served as a house of worship for the convenience of neighbors and tourists. Connecting St. Mary’s Church with the convent is the former private chapel of the Ursuline Nuns: this now forms the National Shrine of our Order. This small, intimate chapel, which is so steeped in tradition, was selected by the Grand Commander of the South with the cooperation of H.E. Archbishop Philip Matthew Hannan of New Orleans and Monsignor Earl C. Woods, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese and the Rector of Our Lady of Victory Church at that time. The site had been recommended by the late Charles Reed Gresham, GCLJ, the well-known architect and founder of our Southern Jurisdiction. The National Shrine renews the ancient bonds of the Ursuline Convent with the founding patron and symbolizes the importance of the Order in the United States.
A committee of religious and lay members was chosen to draw up the plans for the interior of the chapel. On their recommendation, the Southern Grand Commandery commissioned Mr. Charles H. Reinike III, a well-known sculptor, to create a bas relief panel of the inspiring moment when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This sculpture provides the focus for the chapel and symbolize Jesus calling us from the dead works of the part into the life of Grace. The main panel alone was seven months in the design, and the 7 by 9 foot casting took a small army of workers to install. In front of this sculpture stands a small altar with a base in the shape of a shell; this symbolism recalls the Faith of the Christian as the pearl of great price. In addition, the Pilgrim’s Shell was given to devout pilgrims to the Holy Land, and is in fact still awarded to this very day by the Order of Saint Lazarus for such pilgrimages.
The walls of the chapel are lined with the shadow boxes of the coats-of-arms of the Grand Priory of America and its sub jurisdictions, repeating the bas relief technique of the Saint Lazarus sculpture. Between these shadow boxes are stationed the colors of the United States of America, the banner of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, and the flags of the American sub jurisdictions. The attractive wrought-iron doors separating the small chapel from the church of Our Lady of Victor are emblazoned with the distinctive green cross of Saint Lazarus and a series of dedicated small gold shells. Thus the new National Shrine symbolizes the important spiritual and religious works of the Order.
The Inauguration of the National Shrine was preceded by a Solemn Investiture in Our Lady of Victory Church, which displays the flags of our Order and its Jurisdictions in the tradition of the ancient European cathedrals. H.E. Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans and H.R.H. Prince Francisco Enrique de Borbón y de Borbón, 47th Grand Master of the Order, presided at the ceremonies. Monsignor Earl C. Woods welcomed the assembled dignitaries that included representatives of the major Christian faiths, leaders of the Order from different countries and Chaplains, Members and Affiliates from all parts of the United States. The Blessing of the Shrine concluded the impressive ceremonies. Archbishop Hannan greeted each member of the congregation as they field through the chapel, signed the guest book and admired the marvelously subtle décor of the chapel and the magnificent bas relief of the risen Saint Lazarus.
The Shrine underwent significant restoration in 2003-2004. A re-dedication of the Shrine occurred at the national meeting in November 2004. Less than a year later, after the disastrous hurricane Katrina deluged the city of New Orleans in August of 2005, St. Mary’s Church and our National Shrine were forced to close. Following Katrina, there was a consolidation of some parishes by the Archdiocese. St. Mary’s Church was a victim of this consolidation, and for nearly six years the future of our National Shrine hung in limbo. However, through the persistent and dedicated efforts of a few determined members of the Grand Commandery of the South, the Archdiocese agreed to retain our National Shrine adjoining St. Mary’s Church. On June 23, 2011, members of the Southern Grand Commandery joined to celebrate the reopening of our National Shrine – the first time since Katrina. While St. Mary’s is no longer open to the general public and now serves primarily as a Chapel of Ease for the St. Louis Cathedral, our National Shrine can be viewed by special appointment by contacting our National Shrine Liaison.