Spotlight Archive

Spotlight: Gulf Coast Catholicism

When the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast of the United States in August 2005, they decimated a region with a rich Catholic heritage.

Claimed in 1682 for the French king, the colony of Louisiana quickly developed an active Catholic presence. The first parishes were in Old Biloxi and Mobile, Alabama; Natchez, Mississippi; and Robeline, Louisiana. St. Louis parish in New Orleands was founded in 1720 and it became home to the stately cathedral for the newly created Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas in 1793.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans has thus long been a center for Catholicism in the South. Its Ursuline Academy is the oldest Catholic school, as well as the oldest continuously operating school for women, in the United States. Among its shrines are the National Shrine of St. Anne and Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Its fifteenth bishop, John Patrick Cody, desegregated the archdiocese's Catholic schools and went on to become a cardinal-archbishop in Chicago.

To the east, the Mississippi and Alabama coasts were part of the historic Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas. In Bay St. Louis, the Divine Word Missionaries opened the first seminary for black Catholics. The Archdiocese of Mobile, whose Catholic roots reach back to the explorations of Hernando de Soto, was split from New Orleans in 1829.

The strenuous efforts of the Gulf Coast's schools and parishes to recover from disaster suggest that the current difficulty, far from being its denoument, is but another chapter in the extraordinary history of the region's Catholic people.