The Old Ursuline Convent located in the historic French Quarter has been part of the history of New Orleans almost since its founding three centuries ago. The French nuns who arrived here in 1727 shared their deep Catholic faith, healed the sick and prayed for victory during the Battle of New Orleans.
The wooden stairs show the wear of nearly three centuries, with a dip on the sides and edges of each step. The staircase takes you up and down the three floors of the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter. The Convent is the oldest building, not only in New Orleans, but in the entire Mississippi River Valley. The stairs are all that remain of the original Convent, built in the 1730’s. The current structure dates to 1750.
Perilous Journey of Determined Nuns
“They ran into pirates, they ran aground, they get to the mouth of the Mississippi River and they have to transfer to other smaller boats,” explains Emilie Lumas, Director of Archives for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The nuns sleep on sandbars on their five-day journey upriver to the settlement at New Orleans. But the newly arrived nuns insist that they will not run a hospital in the young French colony until the French leadership builds a convent. The nuns hold out for seven years until the convent is completed.
Our Lady of Victory at Convent
A statue of Our Lady of Victory, also know in French as Notre Dame de Victoire, is on display in the Old Ursuline Convent Museum. The nuns brought the statue with them when they arrived from France in 1727.
The Ursuline nuns along with women and children from New Orleans are said to have prayed to this statue during the Battle of New Orleans. They could hear the rumble of the cannons from the battlefield five miles away.
Old Ursuline Clock Keeps Time
The nuns also brought a large pendulum clock with them on their original journey from France. The New Orleans nuns gave the clock as a house warming gift to nuns opening a convent in Galveston, Texas. The clock miraculously survived the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. “That clock actually got washed out to sea and came back,” Lumas says. “It fell and it broke the glass, and we’ve left the crack in the glass to commemorate and to memorialize those that died during that hurricane.”
St. Mary’s Church at Convent
St. Mary’s Church, located on the grounds of the Old Ursuline Convent, has served as a place of worship for the bishops and archbishops of New Orleans. The church was dedicated as Our Lady of Victory Church in 1845. You can view bricks in the attic above the chapel that were put in place during three different centuries as the Convent expanded in size. The Convent Museum houses documents and artifacts from the 300 year history of the Catholic Church in New Orleans.