A New Orleans tradition, born in a Catholic Church formed by free black men and women at a time when slavery ruled the South, and mixed with the African roots of Congo Square and the Mardi Gras Indians, was on full display recently in the Treme section of the Crescent City.
A fine array of people, mostly African-American but embracing people of all races, came together at Saint Augustine church in a vibrant tribute to one of their most distinguished leaders, Rev. Jerome LeDoux. LeDoux, a former priest at the historic Catholic church, who was loved for his loving smile and embrace, and for bringing music, song and worship together to save the church from closing after Hurricane Katrina. A banner with a portrait of him, smiling, led the procession out of the church.
Every song that had been sung, every dance that had been danced and every arm that praised the Lord inside St. Augustine and other parishes that stretched from Louisiana to Texas came out to honor Reverend LeDoux on a beautiful Saturday morning. Outside the church, the priest greeted a family member with a hug, then stood with members of the Catholic auxiliary group Ladies of Peter Claver who wore white tasseled cardboard hats over solemn expressions.
More women arrived, all dressed in white, some with the frilled parasols and lacy garments of the Baby Dolls. They formed a semi-circle around Big Queen of the Mardi Gras Indian group Guardians of the Flame, Cherisse Harrison-Nelson, her bright blue feather and bead costume dazzling. All eyes were on a white basket covered in white flowers that the priest and others opened to release three pure white doves that flew off into the cloudless blue sky.
Then the Treme Brass Band started to play, first Amazing Grace, then I’ll Fly Away. The ladies danced, smiling, happy to send off Reverend LeDoux to heaven.
This woman seemed to swoon over a photo of Reverend LeDoux as she led the line of marchers from the church.
Marchers went to a field nearby for more dancing and piles of food served for the community. Everyone was invited.
The Vodoo Queen Kalindah Laveaux and Anita Oubre of the Mahogany Blue Baby Dolls danced to the brass band while members of the Congo Square Preservation Society looked on.
If you would like to learn more about St. Augustine church and Father LeDoux, check out his book War of the Pews that relates the early history of the church, including the tension that erupted between free blacks, whites, and creoles in the mid-19th century a process that led to a multi-ethnic congregation that we found today.
You can also learn more about the church and neighborhood at the Backstreet Cultural Museum right across from St. Augustine’s.
All photos and videos by Nancy Peckenham.