Monday, March 13, 2006

Another victim of Katrina....

Photo: Bill Haber/AP

Parishioners in St. Augustines parish celebrate Mass yesterday. The archdiocese is set to close this historic predominately black parish.


St. Augustine Church, founded in 1841 by slaves and free people of color, is among the parishes the archdiocese plans to consolidate as it seeks to deal with $84 million in uninsured losses from Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of structures in the archdiocese, including schools, churches and administrative buildings, were damaged when the storm blew in Aug. 29 and four-fifths of the city was covered in water.

The archdiocese is careful to point out that St. Augustine's will only close as a parish but still be open for Mass on Sundays and some other functions like funerals and weddings. Its building, one of the oldest churches in New Orleans, suffered only wind damage from Katrina and will remain open.

"Show up on Sunday, and you won't miss a beat," said the Rev. William Maestri, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Members of the parish, though, say it's not enough. They officially appealed the decision on Thursday and expect a response Monday.

"A parish is family. A parish is generations. A parish is your history," said Sandra Gordon, who began attending St. Augustine as a child, after Hurricane Betsy wiped out her family's previous parish in 1965. Now the president of the pastoral council, she wants St. Augustine to remain the parish of her children and grandchildren.

St. Augustine sits in a low- to middle-income racially diverse neighborhood near the French Quarter; the music, this Sunday played by Ellis and Branford Marsalis, is jazz. About half of the 350 pre-Katrina families that belonged to the parish have returned, and many have suffered heavy damage to their homes, including Gordon.

This story is further confirmation that every aspect of community life in New Orleans was impacted by Katrina.