Our Lady of Prompt Succor

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Mosaic of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Old Ursulines Convent complex, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor is a religious title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the Roman Catholic Church. It refers to a statue of the Madonna kept in a shrine in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. She is also known as Notre-Dame de Bon Secours. She is the principal patroness of the state of Louisiana, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the city of New Orleans. Her feast day is celebrated on January 8.

History[edit]

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. [1]

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 Jefferson a letter asking if their property rights would be honored by the new government. The response from Jefferson is still kept at the convent. "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," wrote the President. "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." [2]

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[3]

Miracles[edit]

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 1812 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)[4] 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.[2] 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, three 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.[5] 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.[2] The Mass ended with the singing of the Te Deum.[1] An annual Mass of Thanksgiving has been held Jan. 8 ever since.[5]

Veneration[edit]

Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Patroness of Louisiana.[3]

In the late 19th century Pope Leo XIII granted the solemn crowning of the statue, an honor carried out by Archbishop Janssens on November 10, 1895. In 1912 this devotion was officially approved by Rome.[1]

It is customary for the citizens of New Orleans to 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.

National Shrine[edit]

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.[3]

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.

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cruz OCDS, Joan Carroll.Miraculous Images of Our Lady, TAN Books and Publishers, 1993, ISBN 0-89555-484-4

External links[edit]