New Orleans’ historic black church remains open despite parish merger

.- African American parishioners of St. Augustine’s Church in New Orleans are upset that their parish is slated to close today. The historic black parish will be closed and its territory merged with another parish in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But archdiocesan officials have said the church will remain open and continue to welcome members of the community for Sunday mass.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Archdiocese of New Orleans is trying to consolidate its resources as it deals with $84 million in uninsured losses. The archdiocese is only expecting 65 percent of its pre-Katrina population to return in the next two years. As a result, seven parishes are being closed or merged and the reopening of another 23 parishes is delayed.

According to canon law, the closing of a parish does not necessitate the closing of a church. One parish can have several churches or places of worship.

But parishioners said this assurance of Sunday masses wasn’t enough. They officially appealed the decision Thursday. They also held a standing room-only mass Sunday, with music provided by well-known artists Ellis and Branford Marsalis, in an effort to convince the archdiocese not to close the historic parish. Even non-parishioners came out to support the appeal. The archdiocese, however, told the Associated Press that it had no plans to reverse its decision.

St. Augustine’s was founded in 1841 by slaves and free people of color. It was a parish of mostly Italian immigrants in the early 1900s but became a predominantly black church once again in the 1960s.

According to the AP, about half of the 350 pre-Katrina families that belonged to the parish have returned so far.

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