A Legendary Pioneer – Father James J. Crowe, S.S.J.

From the time when St. Raymond first became a parish there have been in the rich pageant of its history certain figures who will remain in the hearts of the people to the present day. None of these individuals is as deeply imbedded in their hearts or is more symbolic of the era when St. Raymond was struggling as an infant parish than the Reverend James J. Crowe, S.S.J. In February, 1929, on the brink of the great depression, he came to the parish an unknown, as it were, but he brought along with him all the qualities which were to make him one of the most eminent priests of the parish and the city.” – Souvenir Booklet, 1952

The Reverend Father James Joseph Crowe, S.S.J., was born in 1888 in Jersey City, New Jersey to Irish immigrant parents – Michael, a policeman and Bridget, who was a housewife. As a young man he was seldom seen without his gold top walking cane. Because of defective hearing, he was irritable at times but had a heart of gold for everyone regardless of race, creed or color. In addition to laying the foundation for St. Raymond’s School, he also was responsible for the grotto to Our Lady which stood on the grounds erected near the church. It was built through the labor of one man of the parish and was dedicated on May 24, 1930 at a huge celebration given by its parishioners. At the bottom of this grotto was inscribed the names of those members who attended the celebration.

The success he achieved at St. Raymond did not come easily. At times he barely had enough money to pay his house rent and other current bills.  Stories have been told of the times when the older parishioners would fix him food in order to be assured that he had something to eat. In spite of these obstacles, Father fought to create success.

He started by organizing a baseball team which, over a short span of time, became known as the greatest baseball team of the city. Crowds could be seen crossing the railroad tracks on Paris Avenue each Sunday afternoon to watch the games in the rear of the church. It should be noted that St. Raymond’s team was the first team to participate in night baseball in New Orleans. Counted among his many personal friends was the legendary Louis Armstrong, who would bring his band to entertain the fans before each baseball game. Mr. Armstrong even presented the team with a new set of uniforms since Father Crowe could not afford to do so.

Staging boxing shows was another endeavor Father undertook. Every Monday and Friday night, fans came from across the city to witness well-known fighters enter St. Raymond’s boxing ring.

In 1931, Father Crowe was made a Deputy Sheriff as a result of his outstanding work in keeping crime down to a minimum in St. Raymond’s neighborhood. He was presented with his sheriff’s badge in front of hundreds of his faithful parishioners, friends and city officials at a colorful ceremony on the church’s grounds. He could often be seen walking the grounds of the games with his cane as he prominently displayed his badge. He would never hesitate to eject those whose conduct was unbecoming.

Composing songs was another one of Father Crowe’s talents. Among his many compositions, there is one that will be long remembered. It was introduced for the first time on the radio by Bing Crosby and was entitled, “Under A Southern Moon”.

The success of his many fundraising activities enabled him to be able to purchase tennis shoes and cassocks for his altar boys. Father’s ultimate goal was to build a rectory next to his church, but this was not to be. His health began to fail and in 1933 he had to relinquish his duties as Pastor of St. Raymond. On September 13, 1948 Father Crowe passed away. He may have been pastor for only four  short years, but the indelible mark he left in the minds and hearts of his parishioners would last a life time.

Source:  Souvenir Booklet of the Silver Jubilee of Saint Raymond Parish: 1927-1952 (copy in private possession).


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