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Story of Our Lady of Prompt Succor

Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, sailed from France and founded New Orleans in 1718.  Because the settlers needed help in the new land, he asked the Ursuline nuns to join them.

The Ursuline sisters endured a long and difficult six month voyage aboard the Gironde.  They arrived in New Orleans on August 6, 1727 from Rouen, France. 

Reverend Mother Marie St. Augustin Tranchepain and the other sisters immediately helped the new colony by setting up a convent, school, and orphanage. 

There was much work to be done, and the sisters realized that they needed some help.  In 1809, Mother St. Andre’ in New Orleans wrote to her cousin, Mother St. Michel Gensoul, in France.  She asked her cousin to join her and bring more Ursuline sisters to New Orleans.  Mother St. Michel first had to ask for permission to leave France, so she prayed to Mary for a “quick and favorable” answer from the Pope.  Mother St. Michel promised to have a statue made honoring Mary under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor if her prayer was answered quickly.  (“Succor” comes from the word meaning  “to help” in Latin.) 

Even though France was at war and Pope Pius VII held captive, her letter reached the Pope in Rome.  A miraculously speedy permission was granted within five weeks!  As soon as she received permission, Mother St. Michel had the special wooden statue of Mary carved and covered in gold.  She and the other sisters brought it with them to New Orleans in 1810.  Her flowing robes were carefully carved so that she would appear to be moving quickly. 

In 1812, a terrible fire was burning the city.  The nuns placed a small statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in the Chartres Street convent window facing the fire.  “Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us or we are lost,” they prayed.  The wind then suddenly changed direction, and the convent was saved!  This small statue is known as “Sweetheart” and can be seen in the Ursuline Chapel on State Street. 

In 1815, in the Battle of New Orleans, 10,000 British troops led by General Packenham attacked New Orleans.  The greatly outnumbered American soldiers, led by General Andrew Jackson, fought from behind bales of cotton.  Their families were afraid and fled to the chapel of the Ursuline nuns.  They prayed all through the night for a victory.

During Mass on the morning of January 8, 1815, news arrived that the British had been miraculously defeated.  The Americans suffered very few casualties!  General Jackson offered his thanks to Reverend Mother St. Marie Olivier de Vezin in person at the convent.  The Ursuline nuns promised to celebrate a Mass each year on January 8th to thank Our Lady of Prompt Succor for her intercession. 

Pope Leo XIII approved the crowning of the “Miraculous Statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor” in 1894.  The faithful and appreciative citizens of New Orleans (and beyond) donated their gold and precious jewelry for the making of these crowns.  The coronation of Baby Jesus and Our Lady took place in a beautiful ceremony led by Archbishop Janssens on November 10, 1895 at the Dauphine Street chapel. 

Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the patroness of New Orleans and Louisiana, and she is special to all of us at Ursuline.  Because she guides us to Jesus and intercedes for us, she is like “a bright star on life’s vast ocean.”