This week marked the 85th anniversary of the rededication of one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Downtown New Orleans – Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church, more commonly known as the Jesuit Church, in the 100 block of Baronne Street in the CBD. According to the church’s website, www.jesuitchurch.net, the land on which the church sits was part of the so-called “Jesuit Plantation,” a huge swath of land given to the Jesuits in the late 1700s by Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, founder of New Orleans. Though their work was suppressed worldwide in 1763, the Jesuits returned to New Orleans in 1837 and opened a school and church downtown. The school became The College of the Immaculate Conception (later Jesuit High School).
The church was established in 1851. In 1925, construction work on the Pere Marquette building next to the church seriously damaged the foundation of the church and it was deemed structurally unsafe. The building was dismantled brick by brick until new construction could begin.
Archbishop John Shaw celebrated Mass in the “new” church on March 2, 1930. With beautiful stained glass windows, statues, and a 24-karat gold-plated altar, it is one of the prettiest and most popular churches in the city. The Jesuit Church gained many new parishioners in the 1990s, when the Rev. Harry Tompson became pastor and established programs that continue today, including the Good Shepherd Nativity School, which serves at-risk children; and the Harry Tompson Center, which provides services for the poor and homeless. The popular priest died in 2001 – and was named Gambit’s “New Orleanian of the Year” the following January. He is the only person to be so honored posthumously.