St. Augustine Church is a Historical Monument of New Orleans that is in danger of being lost. Located in the Tremé neighborhood of many hard working people this church stands as a testament to love and friendship of all races; where blacks and whites have resided and worshipped in harmony since its inception in 1841.
From its founding, St. Augustine served Treme’s growing population of Free People of Color, white Creoles, French immigrants, Haitians and slaves. The church’s outreach activities demonstrated a commitment to the individual and communal well-being of members of all groups, slaves, Free People of Color and Creoles.
St. Augustine Church has been the center of this community for 175 years, and was pivotal in the development of Tremé. Once again, Tremé is in a state of growth and revitalization and its’ church is instrumental to the continued development.
St. Augustine Church needs to be restored to become the center of this community once again.
St. Augustine Church has been in continuous use as a place of worship since its dedication and celebrates its 175th Anniversary in October 2016. St. Augustine Church has been chosen to be part of a permanent exhibit in the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, dedicated September 24, 2016 in Washington D.C. In 2008, the church was designated as one of the original 26 sites included on the African American Heritage Trail.
St. Augustine Church is now reaching out to the people of New Orleans who have benefited from the contribution of significant parts of Tremé to the arts, in Armstrong Park; and to urban development, which benefited all of New Orleans.
Please help to restore this beautiful, historically significant church that is a major part of the culture and history of this amazing city of New Orleans.
The Future of St. Augustine Church
The past of St. Augustine Church is important to the history of Tremé and New Orleans, but it is the future needs of this community that St. Augustine has to support. Tremé cannot move forward without St. Augustine Church. The restoration will help refocus Tremé spiritually, socially and culturally, raising the appreciation of the community and accelerating its continued development.
The physical church needs to be significantly restored, with total renovation costs over four million dollars.
Once renovated the church will once again become the center of the community by sponsoring community programs; support groups, classes, counseling services, after school activities, CYO, music lessons and other neighborhood services. It could provide educational opportunities for the church, the residents, its religious staff, and the archdiocese. A place people can turn to for spiritual support and help.
It will also be the historic center of Tremé, and an example to the world, during these tumultuous times, of how a community can be joined together to save this testament of brotherhood and love. It’s been said that God lives in St. Augustine Church.
St. Augustine Church was built on the site that was part of a plantation estate. Originally, it was the brickyard and tilery headquarters built in 1720 of the Province of New Orleans’ Supervisor of the Company of the Indies and was an economic stimulus for the province. In 1731 the Company of the Indies left and the plantation was sold to the Moreau family and eventually came into the possession of Julie Moreau in 1775, a manumitted slave.
Claude Tremé, a Frenchman, married Julie Moreau and took title to the property. The couple subdivided the estate and sold off many lots to Free People of Color, people from the Old Quarter and Haitian immigrants fleeing the 1791 revolution. After selling 35 lots the Tremé family left their plantation home in 1810.
In the 1830s, the Catholic Free People of Color, in cooperation with Martha Fortier, a postulate of the hospital nuns, created a school to educate free colored girls in the French Quarter, the first of its kind in the United States. Marie Jeanne Aliquot, a French émigré, began overseeing Fortier’s school. In 1834 she purchased the immediate property of the Tremé home for $9,000 and was the major catalyst in the origins of Saint Augustine Church.
Marie Aliquot moved the school from the French Quarter to the Tremé in 1834, which at that time was briefly the site of the College d’Orleans. There, a group of free colored women, including Fortier Protégé Henriette Delille, organized themselves as sisters of the Presentation. In 1842 the Sisters of the Presentation were formally recognized as the order of the Sisters of the Holy Family. Henriette Delille, a Creole, along with two others, founded the group and devoted her life to caring for the sick, helping the poor and instructing free and enslaved, children and adults. She died in 1862 and her funeral was at St. Augustine Church; she is awaiting sainthood (venerable).
Marie Aliquot sold the house to the Ursuline nuns in 1836. The Ursuline nuns purchased the school under the condition that it continue the education of colored children. They, in turn, gifted the property to the Carmelites in 1840, who took over the school and merged it with their school for white girls and used the Tremé home for their mother house until 1926.
From the beginning St. Augustine’s origins lie in the initiatives of New Orleans Free People of Color.
In the 1830’s Tremé’s Free People of Color petitioned Bishop Antoine Blanc for permission to build a church. The Ursuline Sisters, who owned the property adjacent to the school, donated a lot at the corner of Bayou Road (Gov Nicholls) and Saint Claude, (Henriette Delille) on the condition the church would be named Saint Augustine, after one of their patron saints. St. Augustine Church began construction in 1839, where fourteen Free People of Color placed the church’s capstone, it was dedicated in 1841.
A few months before the October 9, 1841 dedication of Saint Augustine Church, the Free People of Color began to purchase pews for their families. Upon hearing of this, white people in the area started their campaign to buy pews, thus the “War of the Pews” began. The white and Free People of Color each purchased the center pews. In an unprecedented political and religious move, the Free People of Color members bought all the side aisle pews. They then gave those pews to the slaves as their exclusive place of worship. This mix of pews resulted in the most integrated congregation in the country. It is the oldest church in the United States that has had a continuous mixed congregation of Free People of Color, slaves and whites throughout its entire history; many ethnicities found spiritual comfort at Saint Augustine Church. White children and black and every shade in between knelt side by side. Black and whites sang side by side in the choir of Saint Augustine as early as the 1860s, and knelt together at the altar rail for communion.
On Saturday, October 30, 2004, in the midst of a Gospel Extravaganza unfolding in the St. Augustine parking lot, Archbishop Alfred Schulte, standing near the church garden area and accompanied by a large crowd from around the city and parts of the nation, blessed and dedicated “The Tomb of the Unknown Slave”, a shrine consisting of outsize marine chains welded together with shackles and iron balls to form a huge, fallen cross. The grim, rusting monument standing outside the church honors those countless slaves who perished uncounted and unnamed. As the bronze plaque affixed to the wall behind the shrine explains, the monument was primarily inspired by the number of unmarked graves that have been unearthed in the city over the years, but is also dedicated to all of those who died ignominious fates during the American slave trade. The plaque even points out that it is likely that there are such graves even in the earth beneath it since much of the parish was created by slave labor.
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