The Rev. Claude Maistre was St. Rose de Lima’s first priest. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work on the heathens way back in 1857 when the church was located on Bayou St John. A short while later it moved to Mystery Street before finally landing at its current location.
Father Claude was eventually ousted from St Rose for the radical notion of supporting the emancipation of slaves. He landed on his feet in Treme by founding The Holy Name Of Jesus at the corner of Claiborne and Ursuline Street.
The good parishioners at St Rose de Lima were left in the capable hands of Rev John Charles Ferec, a French emigre who led the flock for two years prior to drowning in his own bathtub.
Not to be dissuaded from God, the Very Reverend Francis Mittelbronne assumed the leadership role in the church which was described at the time as, “no church, only a small frame building, and no presbytery [rectory] to speak of.” That would change under Mittlebronne’s leadership (and fundraising) as the church quickly grew in physical stature. By 1896 the Very Reverend was ready to call it a day. He had been a pastor for 30 years. He laid the mantle on a Very Rev. Canon Alphonse Janssens.
Janssens oversaw the construction of the physical building we see today as we drive along Bayou Road in Mid-City. It was the next priest however, a Right Rev. Msgr. Edward Pendergast, who led the church through an enormous beautification project that saw numerous adornments (art and murals) placed throughout the building.
Hurricane Katrina delivered a fatal blow to St Rose de Lima church. The Archdiocese of New Orleans closed the old girl down in the storm’s aftermath.
But next year, 2017, Southern Rep Theatre is partnering with Rose Community Development Corporation and Alembic Community Development to breathe life into the vacant building. A theater and an arts and education campus will spring up in and around the glorious church with a completion date of 2018 targeted.
The ghosts of all those old priests and parishioners will be dancing in the aisles when Southern Rep commands the stage. We can hardly wait.