(Arch)bishop Antoine Blanc (1835-1860) guided the Church through one of its most troubled political and social periods, laid the foundation for future Church growth and vitality, regained control of his cathedral from rebellious churchwardens, vastly expanded Catholic education, brought new religious communities to the state, established the first diocesan seminary, and oversaw the revitalization of the Catholic Church in Texas.
His diocese initially included all of Louisiana and Mississippi - an estimated 100,000 faithful residing in 95,000 square miles. Three concurrent trends made his tenure particularly difficult: a large anti-religious, anti-clerical population; the increasingly hostile attitude and restrictive legislation towards all people of African descent - slave and free - that created a situation that severely limited religious worship and instruction; and the Know-Nothings and their nativist, anti-immigrant campaigns at a time when the local German and Irish communities were rapidly growing and the Catholic clergy were almost all foreign-born. An additional factor was the recurring outbreaks of yellow fever that took a frightening toll among the clergy, religious, and laity.
The Diocese of New Orleans was twice reduced in size during Blanc's tenure. In 1837, the Diocese of Natchez, comprising the state of Mississippi, was established. In 1853, North Louisiana was made a separate diocese with its see city in Natchitoches and Father Auguste Martin as the first bishop. In 1850, New Orleans became an archdiocese with Antoine Blanc as its first archbishop; the province's suffragan sees included Natchez, Mobile, Galveston, and Little Rock.
To serve the growing population, more priests and religious were needed. In 1838, the first diocesan seminary under the direction of Vincentian Fathers was opened. The Jesuits returned to Louisiana in 1837 to open a college at Grand Coteau. The Redemptorists opened their first parish in New Orleans in 1843. The Ursulines, Religious of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of Mt. Carmel, and Daughters of Charity expanded their apostolic work. New religious communities of women and men arrived in Louisiana: Marianites of Holy Cross (1848), Brothers of the Holy Cross (1850), Christian Brothers (1850), School Sisters of Notre Dame (1856), Sisters of St. Joseph (1857), Sisters of the Good Shepherd (1859), and Dominican Sisters from Cabra, Ireland (1860). The Sisters of the Holy Family, a community of African American women, had its organizational beginnings in 1836. The archdiocese introduced the Cause for Canonization of their foundress, Henriette Delille, in 1988.
This period was one of rapid expansion of parishes, schools, orphanages, and hospitals. At Archbishop Blanc's sudden death in 1860, Catholics of the archdiocese worshiped in fifty-eight parishes, educated their children in thirty-three schools, and trained their clergy in an archdiocesan seminary. A network of orphanages and hospitals reached out to those in need.
Other Significant Dates
||The first Southern branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society is established at St. Patrick Parish in New Orleans by Father Cyrille Delacroix
||Yellow fever takes the lives of five percent of the New Orleans population
||Diocesan Seminary in Plattenville is destroyed by fire; seminary is moved to St. Stephen Parish in New Orleans
1. View of New Orleans taken from the Lower Cotton Press, 1852, hand-tinted lithograph, copyrighted by and courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection. All rights reserved.