Our Lady of Prompt Succor
|Our Lady of Prompt Succour
Nuestra Senora del Pronto Socorro
Notre Dame du Prompt Secours
Patroness of Louisiana (disputed)
Our Lady of Quick Help
|Location||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Date||31 December 1810|
Mother Saint Michel
President Andrew Jackson
Polychrome and Gilding Leaf
|Holy See approval||Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
|Shrine||National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor|
Our Lady of Prompt Succor (French: Notre Dame du Prompt Secours) is a Roman Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with a wooden devotional image enshrined in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America. The famed image is closely associated with Mother Saint Michel, the Mother Superior of the Ursuline Order who also survived the French Revolution.
Pope Pius IX authorised the public devotion to the Marian title on 27 September 1851 and designated the 8th of January as its feast day of thanksgiving. Pope Leo XIII officially granted a Canonical Coronation to the image through Archbishop Francis Janssens on 10 November 1895.
The image is heavily gilded with gold leaf and carries the Child Jesus, currently enshrined in the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. The image is also known by its connection to President Andrew Jackson who was present before the controversial image during and after the Battle of New Orleans against the British invasion. Under this Marian title, the Virgin Mary is designated as the Principal Patroness of Louisiana, the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Her feast day is celebrated on 8 January.
French Ursuline nuns first arrived in Louisiana in 1727. The nuns established a convent and founded what is the oldest school for girls in the territory of the modern-day U.S., Ursuline Academy, which educated the children of European colonists, Native Americans, and those of the local Creole people, slave or free. Spanish sisters came to assist the growing school in 1763 after Louisiana fell under Spanish control. 
In 1800 the territory came back under French possession, and in 1803, most of the sisters, fearing the anti-clerical sentiment of the French Revolution, fled to Havana, Cuba. When Louisiana passed into the control of the United States, the sisters sent President a letter asking if their property rights would be honored by the new government. The response from President Thomas Jefferson is still kept at the convent to this day:
"...I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institutions by the former governments of Louisiana. The principles of the Constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority ... Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it." 
Short of teachers, Mother Saint Andre Madier requested sisters from France to come to America to aid the struggling convent. She wrote to her cousin, Mother Saint Michel Gensoul, who was running a Catholic girls boarding school in France at the time. The Catholic Church was suffering the wrath of the revolution under Napoleon. Mother Saint Michel, knowing that the Church was in distress in both her homeland and abroad, approached Bishop Fournier of Montpelier to request a transfer. Bishop Fournier felt unable to afford the loss of another nun, as many had been killed or fled during the revolution, and advised Mother St. Michel that only the Pope could give this authorization.
Pope Pius VII was a prisoner of Napoleon at the time, and Mother St. Michel knew the unlikelihood of the Pope even receiving her letter. She prayed before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and said:
"O most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain for me a prompt and favorable answer to this letter, I promise to have you honored at New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor."
Sending her petition on March 19, 1809, Mother St. Michel received a letter from the Pope granting her request on April 29, 1809. Mother St. Michel commissioned a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus. Bishop Fournier blessed the statue and the Mother St. Michel's work.
Mother St. Michel arrived in New Orleans with the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on December 31, 1810, with several postulants. The statue was placed in the monastery chapel of the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street in the French Quarter.
Many miracles have been attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Two historical events are especially associated with the Virgin. The first occurred in 1788 during the eruption of a great fire in New Orleans devastating the Vieux Carré. The Ursuline convent was facing imminent destruction as the winds blew the terrible fire toward Jackson Square. An order was given to evacuate the convent, however at that moment, a nun named Sr. St. Anthony (Marthe Delatre, daughter of Antoine Delatre) placed a small statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on a window seat and Mother St. Michel began to pray aloud, "Our Lady of Prompt Succor, we are lost unless you hasten to our aid!" Immediately, the wind shifted direction, blowing the flames away from the convent allowing for the fire to be extinguished. The Ursuline convent was one of the few buildings spared from destruction. Upon seeing the inexplicable occurrence, witnesses unanimously cried out, "Our Lady of Prompt Succor has saved us!"
The second major miracle occurred in 1815, twenty-seven years after the disastrous fire. General Andrew Jackson's 6,000 American troops faced 15,000 British soldiers on the plains of Chalmette. It seemed as though the city of New Orleans was doomed. On the eve of the Battle of New Orleans, New Orleans residents joined the Ursuline sisters at their convent in the French Quarter to pray throughout the night, imploring the help of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. On the morning of January 8, the Very Rev. William Dubourg, Vicar General, offered Mass at the altar on which the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor had been placed. Cannon fire could be heard from the chapel. The Prioress of the Ursuline convent, Mother Ste. Marie Olivier de Vezin, made a vow to have a Mass of Thanksgiving sung annually should the American forces win. At the very moment of communion, a courier ran into the chapel to inform all those present that the British had been defeated. They had become confused by a fog and wandered into a swamp. The Mass ended with the singing of the Te Deum. An annual Mass of Thanksgiving has been held January 8 ever since. The 200 anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans will occur in 2015, and commemorative events are planned.
- On September 27, 1851, Pope Pius IX, authorized the devotion and celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the singing of the yearly Mass of Thanksgiving on January 8.
- On 21 June 1894, Pope Leo XIII approved the Canonical Coronation of the wooden image with an accompanying Papal bull from the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide and was carried out by Archbishop Francis Janssens on 10 November 1895. The same papal document erected the Ursuline order to the rank of confraternity. In 1897, Pope Leo XIII sent another rescript elevating their status to the rank of Archconfraternity.
- It is alleged that on 13 June 1928, Pope Pius XI through the Sacred Congregation of Rites officially declared the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor as designated as the Patroness of Louisiana. There is a lack of Papal documentation to verify the matter.
Controversy as the "Americanized" Virgin Mary
According to historical researcher and American authors, Michael Pasquier and Margaret Jean Cormack, the devotion to the Marian title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor was a failure to subdue Catholics to an Americanized form of the Virgin Mary. Such authors maintained that the devotion never garnered widespread American following like Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of Guadalupe due to its "lack of multi-ethnic appeal" to minority groups at the time.
The author further states that the lack of openness, honesty and willingness of the Ursuline Order to publicly share their information regarding the alleged miracles and devotion put the Marian devotion to a questionable state. Furthermore, Cormack maintains that President Andrew Jackson, a Protestant Christian did not believe in the alleged intercession of Prompt Succor, citing many times his crediting "Signal Interposition in Heaven" to be reason why the Battle of New Orleans was won. Cormack further claims that the devotion was never truly popular among Creole or minority groups due to the Catholic bias and slavery at the time, rather it only appealed to the Ursuline Order due to their greed to be granted the title of Archconfraternity and a limited number of laity despite being authorised with the first Canonical Coronation in the United States. 
Furthermore, Cormack maintains a disillusionment among the Ursuline Order who valued the Papal recognition to celebrate the Feast Day of Our Lady of Prompt Succor over the Feast of Epiphany of Jesus Christ which would have merited greater importance in the Liturgical Calendar. Cormack also cited a heated dispute between Father Antonio de Sedella versus Father William du Bourg over parochial authorities, which made the Marian devotion difficult to harness and spread its cult of devotion. Cormack also questions the existence of the alleged 1928 Papal bull from the Sacred Congregation of Rites which claims the Marian title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor as the designated patroness of Louisiana due to lack of documental evidence. 
Pious believers of New Orleans pray before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, asking for her intercession whenever a hurricane threatens the city. During hurricane season, prayers are said at every Mass in the city during the Prayers of the Faithful requesting Our Lady of Prompt Succor's intercession and protection. After Hurricane Katrina, prayers were made to Our Lady of Prompt Succor asking for the quick recovery of the damaged city and surrounding area.
The statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor was moved from the Old Ursuline convent in the French Quarter to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, located on the State Street campus of Ursuline Academy and Convent. The National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor was constructed during the 1920s and consecrated on January 6, 1928. The Shrine is the responsibility of the Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province.
The Old Ursuline Convent is located at 1100 Chartres Street in the French Quarter. The attached chapel is now known as St. Mary's. Both the church and the convent are open for tours daily.
- "A Brief but Remarkable History of the Devotion", National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor
- "Shrine in New Orleans has what may be Nation's oldest image of Blessed Virgin", The Marian Library, Univ. of Dayton
- Masterless Mistresses by Emily Clark pg 71
- Pagones, Sara. "Nuns challenged with shrine upkeep", The Advocate, January 21, 2013. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- "History", Ursuline Academy
- Saints and Their Cults in the Atlantic World - by Margaret Jean Cormack - University of South Carolina, 2007. PP- 128-146
- Cruz OCDS, Joan Carroll. Miraculous Images of Our Lady, TAN Books and Publishers, 1993, ISBN 0-89555-484-4
- Cormack, Margaret Jean - Saints and Their Cults in the Atlantic World - University of South Carolina, 2007. PP- 128-146
- Ursuline Academy and Convent and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor
- Litany of Our Lady of Prompt Succor
- Our Lady of Prompt Succor Novena