In the middle of swamp land, knee-deep muddy roads, and a city drainage canal in a section of New Orleans known as Pailett Land; rose a small church and future parish known as Saint Raymond.
Every Sunday morning the people of this area arose at 4:30 to make the long and tiresome journey to hear Mass at Corpus Christi Church on Saint Bernard Avenue. It was their strong religious faith and personal sacrifices that made the Reverend Father Samuel Joseph Kelly, S.S.J., (the founding pastor of Corpus Christi) determined to help these faithful parishioners attain their own church. Meetings began to be held every Sunday evening at the home of one of its members, located at 3536 Paris Avenue. It was as a result of these meetings that the foundation was laid for a new church to be built and named Saint Raymond Catholic Church.
In 1925, due to lack of money to construct a larger church, a small chapel was built by the people of this community. The chapel was located on a dairy farm in an area close to what would become Saint Raymond’s future school building. Now, Sunday Masses could be held closer to home. By the end of 1926, the priests at Corpus Christi Church could not give sufficient time to the work of Saint Raymond’s, so the Reverend Father Michael O’Neil, S.S.J., then pastor, was forced to obtain the assistance of other priests in the community.
The parishioners of Saint Raymond decided it was time they had more than just a chapel so Father O’Neil organized the “Willing Workers Club,” whose goal was to raise money for its construction. This club, in later years, would become the Rosary Sodality. After two years of hard work and lots of prayers, the people of the parish saw their dream fulfilled. On Sunday, October 16, 1927 the first Mass was celebrated within their new permanent church. The choir was composed of women of the new parish assisted by the organist from Corpus Christi Church.
In February of 1929, the Reverend Father James Crowe, S.S.J, was appointed pastor and first resident priest of Saint Raymond’s Parish. As there was yet no rectory, he lived in a rented house on Paris Avenue and soon began overseeing the renovation of the stable on the church grounds for the purpose of converting it into a small school. Two lay teachers taught the students and one room in the Boscoville section of town was even used as a classroom. Despite tremendous odds, Father Crowe did remarkable work: spiritually, socially, and materially. More will follow on this highly admired priest in a subsequent post.
At the height of his pastorate, Father Crowe became ill and the Reverend Father John Meskill, S.S.J., was appointed pastor in November of 1934. Since there was no rectory, Father Meskill lived in a classroom in the school until one could be built. With the help of the men of the parish, who sacrificed many nights to construct a home for him and other future priests, the rectory for Saint Raymond’s Parish was finally completed.
As various Josephite Fathers continued over the years to be assigned to the parish, Saint Raymond continued to prosper and grow. The Reverend Father Stephen Boysko, S.S.J., became pastor in 1938. Father worked long and hard and often could be seen laboring with his hands in decorating the church and making extensive repairs. He was also successful in obtaining two Sisters of the Holy Family to teach in the school.
It was 1942, when a new housing development, known as the Saint Bernard Housing Projectwas constructed. With its completion, the influx of Catholics to the area caused Saint Raymond’s Parish to truly grow. The number of parishioners seemed to mushroom overnight. By 1944, the Reverend Father John Rottman became resident pastor and, for the first time, an assistant priest was assigned to assist with meeting the needs of a much larger population. He was the Reverend Father William Dodd, S.S.J.
As the number of students increased by the hundreds, it became necessary to enlarge the school and to lay the foundation for the Sister’s convent. This took place under the leadership of the Reverend Father Francis Tighe, S.S.J., who succeeded Father Rottman. Under Father Tighe’s leadership, improvements continued. The school was enlarged to accommodate the increased student population and, to everyone’s delight, a Sisters’ convent was finally erected.
As October of 1950 approached, Saint Raymond had taken on the characteristics of a fully fledged parish. Further enlargement of the Saint Bernard Housing Project demanded more school facilities and a larger church. Under their new pastor, the Reverend Father Francis J. Schmutz, S.S.J., and through the generous memorial gifts of the Valeary family of Saint Raymond and the Tully family of New York; a beautiful marble altar and gorgeous tabernacle were added to its beautiful church.
From 1952 to 2005, Saint Raymond continued to service the needs of this community. As Hurricane Katrina swept over New Orleans in August of 2005, it severely damaged the structures at Saint Raymond’s. Saint Raymond Parish was suppressed as was Saint Leo the Great Parish. A new parish, Saint Raymond-Saint Leo, was erected, worshipping at Saint Leo’s Church on Parish Avenue.
It is our hope that the rich history of this parish and the long hard struggles undertaken by its priests and parishioners will be kept alive in the hearts and souls of its members, now and in future generations to come.
Source: Souvenir Booklet of the Silver Jubilee of Saint Raymond Parish: 1927-1952 (copy in private possession).
Lolita V. Cherrie