For more than a century, the great Tudor Gothic bell tower of Holy Name Church with its nave, flying buttresses, and clearstory has announced the presence of the Catholic Church uptown.
In 1886 Fr. John O’Shanahan, S.J., Superior of the Southern Jesuits, envisioned a parish and college across from newly-established Audubon Park. The Cotton Centennial of 1884 had attracted many to the area and suddenly the land once considered the rear of a riverfront plantation was prime property. Before applying to Archbishop Francis Janssens to approve the project, Fr. O’Shanahan promised our Blessed Lord that he would give the title of “His Holy Name” to the Church if the Archbishop agreed. He must have been persuasive for Archbishop Janssens did designate the Jesuits for one of two new parishes on condition they build a college.
With this permission, Fr. O’Shanahan purchased a section of the Foucher Tract from Joseph Hernandez for $22,500. The section measured four hundred forty-seven feet fronting St. Charles Avenue and ran back all the way past Claiborne Avenue, a depth greater than a mile. The new church parish boundaries extended from Prytania Street to the swamps “back of town” (roughly Claiborne Avenue) and from Pine Street downtown to Jefferson Avenue.
Six Jesuit brothers skilled in carpentry constructed the first Holy Name of Jesus Church. The building was entirely of wood and fashioned in the Gothic style. Inevitably inferior in size to the Jesuits’ great Moorish church on Baronne Street known as Immaculate Conception, this ‘Little Jesuits’ had the distinction of being a true Louisiana product. The lumber used was cut in the state; the stained glass windows were fabricated locally, and the massive 20,000 pound organ was taken from the Cotton Centennial of 1884, right across the Avenue. Jesuit Brothers did the hand-carving and carpenter work, using plans drawn by A. N. Clayton of Galveston, Texas. With a 60-foot wide by 130-foot deep footprint, this first Holy Name could seat 400.
On Sunday May 29, 1892, the building was solemnly blessed and dedicated to the honor and glory of God. Fr. John Downey, S. J., recently appointed pastor, celebrated Mass along with his assistants Fr. Joseph Gerlach, S. J., and Fr. P. J. Kennedy, S. J. Seventy practicing Catholics comprised the population, producing an income the first year of $163. The parish’s initial report to the Archdiocese listed three baptisms, one mixed marriage, and one funeral. According to that first report, only one hundred communions had been distributed.
In the next decade, plans were laid for the promised college that would become Loyola University. Mission Superior Fr. William Power, S. J. appointed Fr. Albert Biever, S. J., and others to staff the new educational institution. In addition, Fr. Biever was assigned as Pastor of Holy Name.
In 1910, to accommodate the building of Marquette Hall and the Louise C. Thomas Memorial Jesuit Residence, the wooden church was moved thirty feet down St. Charles Avenue. The congregation heard Mass Sunday, July 17 with the building on jackscrews, and immediately afterwards thirty workmen put the structure on rollers and in half a day had moved it to the new location.
In March 1913, Miss Kate McDermott notified Fr. Biever that in light of the growing parish, she wished to fund a new and larger church. She advised Fr. Biever that she was donating $100,000 to the Most Holy Name of Jesus for the erection of a church in memory of her brother, Thomas McDermott. McDermott had been a prominent sugar buyer along with Isaac Delgado, director of Hibernia Bank, and a director of the Sugar Exchange. Subsequently, Miss McDermott increased her gift by $50,000 and made Loyola University heir of her estate. At that time, it was the largest gift ever received by the Jesuits in this city and enormously appreciated, since the parish had grown substantially.
In late July 1914, pile driving began for the new church, which was to have seating for about nine hundred people. Later that same year Miss Kate McDermott died without ever seeing her gift realized in stone and brick.
On December 9, 1918 Archbishop John Borzano, Apostolic delegate of the Holy See, officiated at the dedication of the new Holy Name of Jesus Church. The St. Joseph altar on the uptown side was the only permanent altar installed at the time of dedication. However, Lawrence Fabacher, proprietor of Fabacher’s Restaurant and Jackson Brewery, had already commissioned the grandly carved Carrara marble main altar. He donated the $12,000 cost in memory of his entire family. Four of the little statues on the top of the altar represent saints after whom his sons were named. In 1910 Pope Pius X had made him a Knight of St. Gregory the Great for his religious and charitable work. It was not until the end of 1919 that the main altar, Sacred Heart altar, Blessed Virgin altar, and St. Ignatius altars were dedicated.
In 1919, WWL radio, newly established at Loyola University, began Sunday Mass broadcasts from Holy Name of Jesus Church. For years, Mr. Leo Zinser served as Mass Commentator; and Mr. Guy Bernard was organist.
In the following decades, donations to the church continued. Many of the great stained glass windows appeared in the 1920s. They told stories of Jesus and honored their donors. In 1931 the current baptismal font was acquired. In 1941 the upper windows of the church were adorned with elegant, more modern stained glass with various memorials.
As the Audubon Park area prospered, the parish grew in numbers. The Catholic population of the parish reached 3,608 in 1932. After World War II there were 2,825 Catholic families in the parish. By 1959 the Catholic population had increased to 6,195.
Fr. Joseph Gerlach, S. J. founded the first school in 1891, presided over by Sisters of Notre Dame. In 1909 they withdrew and Fr. Biever persuaded the Sisters of Mercy to purchase the school property and take over the Holy Name School. A highlight of its early years was the visit of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, who had grown up in New Orleans. He awarded the students three days of holiday. By 1929 school population was 493. The school building itself went up in 1932. In 1959 the parish helped fund the construction of the Sisters of Mercy high school and the new convent facing La Salle Street.
In 1974 a campaign to renovate and refurbish the interior of the church commenced under the leadership of Pastor J. Emile Pfister, S. J. from designs by architect and parishioner Piet A Kessels. It was then that the crimson-hued apse wall coloration was added by craftsmen with with Keith Guy, Inc. Parishioner J. Edgar Monroe donated a substantial sum to Loyola University for the renovation and upkeep of the church.
On May 29, 1977, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan presided at the Eucharistic celebration marking completion of the renovation. The renovation had cost $450,000, three times more than the original construction about fifty years earlier.
In 1985 the former convent of the Sisters of Mercy on LaSalle Place became the parish center and the residence for the parish priests. In 1991 the Holy Name Parish celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Centennial Eucharistic Mass.
Recent Pastors of Holy Name of Jesus
Fr. Walter C. McCauley, S. J. 1982-1985
Fr. Hilton L. Rivet, S. J. 1985-1991
Fr. Daniel A. Creagan, S.J. 1991-1997
Fr. Paul Patin, S.J. 1997-2003
Fr. Paul Schott, S.J. (Administrator) 2003-2004
Fr. Thomas Stahel, S.J. 2004-2005
Fr. Edwin L. Gros, S.J. (Administrator) 2006-2007
Fr. Donald Hawkins, S.J. 2007-2013
Fr. Edwin L. Gros, S.J. 2013-Present