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Religion In New Orleans

Religion has always played a big role in New Orleans. From early arrival of the Ursuline sisters throughout New Orleans history, religion has been important.


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The earliest European settlers were Catholic and that influence continues today, but that is certainly not the only religion represented in New Orleans. By 1906, there were reportedly 294 churches. But religion and segregation went hand-in-hand. The "Encyclopedia Americana" reported that "203 (churches) are for whites and 91 for negroes." The Catholic presence had dwindled to only 41 churches. Now there were Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches.

There were also six Jewish synagogues. This is significant considering that, in 1724, when the French Black Code was adopted, it not only was designed to dictate the lives of slaves but it also banned Jews from Louisiana. Even though I mention this with regard to religion, I do realize it is an ethnic issue. But there was a Jewish presence from even the earliest of times. By the mid-1700s, Isaac Monsanto, a French-Jewish merchant from Curacao, successfully established a business in New Orleans. According to one author, half of the Jews in New Orleans in the 1830s were married non-Jews and virtually all of their children grew up as Christians. Even the first rabbi of Shaarai-Chasset synagogue in New Orleans chose to marry a Catholic woman and all of his descendants were Catholic. For more information about Jewish life in Louisiana, visit the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.

There were missionaries coming and going from every denomination under the guise of educating the poor and the "heathen," which often referred to the Native American population. The missionaries did leave a legacy in their descriptions of life in New Orleans. They often wrote of their travels, partly because they needed to report to their funding source and partly to inspire future support for the work. Few of the protestant missionaries appear to have remained for very long. There are many accounts of missionaries either passing through New Orleans or remaining only three or six months. Even the Unitarians, not typically known for their mission work, got in on the act. But keep in mind that some of the descriptions are given by missionaries who literally spent less than a day in New Orleans on their way elsewhere.

There were other who stayed and who contributed to the history of religion. As noted in an earlier article, The Ursulines or Sisters of Ursula were the first of many orders of religious women who came to New Orleans, founded schools and orphanages, and ministered to the needs of the poor. Arriving in 1727 after an arduous journey at sea, the sisters provided much needed medical care. Methodist Bishop, John Philip Newman, was involved with missions in New Orleans from 1864-65 and remained in various capacities until 1869. While in New Orleans, he established a religious publication the "Southwestern Christian Advocate" in 1867.

A number of churches do have their own cemeteries. If you know your ancestor's religious affiliation, it might be a little easier to locate the cemetery in which they were buried.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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