The National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, situated on the same property as the Ursuline Sisters’ residence and Ursuline Academy, was constructed during the 1920s and consecrated on January 6, 1928. It continues to fulfill the promise made in 1810 by Ursuline nun Mother St. Michel Gensoul to honor the Mother of God under this title. The Shrine serves the faithful in their devotion and in their confidence in God’s unconditional love for them and in Our Lady’s prompt help.
The Shrine and its mission are the privilege and responsibility of the Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province. The Ursulines and their generous lay collaborators strive to make the Shrine a place of welcome for all whose faith and devotion lead them to seek a place of worship, quiet prayer or pilgrimage.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor
A Tiny Statue of Our Lady
My good Mother, if you will promptly remove these obstacles, I shall carry this image of you to New Orleans where I promise to do all in my power to have you honored.
Mother St. Michel and several other French Sisters answered a call for assistance from the New Orleans Ursuline Sisters in 1785. There was, however, much political and religious unrest in Europe at that time which made it necessary for the Sisters to obtain a special permission from Pope Pius VII to come to the New World (that might take years of waiting). Mother St. Michel found a tiny statue of Our Lady in the convent attic and prayed, “My good Mother, if you will promptly remove these obstacles, I shall carry this image of you to New Orleans where I promise to do all in my power to have you honored.”
Very soon after, Sister St. Michel was on a ship on her way to New Orleans. At that time, Mother St. Michel commissioned a statue to be carved in France. (Thus, the name “Our Lady of Prompt Succor”…“quick help.”) That beautiful, large, gold statue resides in the Shrine on State Street, but arrived at the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street in the French Quarter on December 10, 1810.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Patroness of Louisiana and enjoys a reputation of performing miraculous life saving intercessions for the residents of New Orleans…quick help to overcome losses from great fires, floods, disease and wars. For example, throughout the night of January 7–8, 1815, the residents of New Orleans and the Ursuline Sisters prayed that they would be spared loss of life in the Battle of New Orleans led by General Andrew Jackson against the formidable British Army. In spite of overwhelming odds including huge numbers of highly trained British soldiers, the Battle was won. General Jackson, publicly, and in a letter to the Sisters, acknowledged “heavenly intercession” in that victory. The Sisters welcomed the many injured British soldiers and nursed them back to health. (Jackson’s letter resides in the Ursuline Museum on State Street.
In years after the Battle, President Jackson’s trips to New Orleans always included visits to the Ursuline Convent.) Every year, since 1815, a solemn promise has been kept to honor Our Lady in a Mass of Thanksgiving on January 8 celebrated by the Archbishop of New Orleans in the National Shrine. This promise has been kept, without fail, for that many years, and is attended by many devotees from across the Nation.
My good Mother, if you will take away promptly the obstacles that stand in the way of our departure, I will carry you to New Orleans, and I promise to have you honored there by every means in my power.
A smaller statue of the Blessed Mother, fondly called “Sweetheart,” was brought to New Orleans by one of the Sisters from the monastery of Pont S. Esprit in France. In celebration of 275 years of the Ursulines in New Orleans, the statue has been cleaned and moved from the Ursuline Academy museum to a special place in the Shrine. Scarcely twelve inches high, the little plastered statue was destined for disposal when Sister Felicite found it in her convent attic in France in 1785. Pained to see this image of Our Lady so carelessly cast aside, Sr. Felicite fell to her knees and prayed. “My good Mother, if you will take away promptly the obstacles that stand in the way of our departure, I will carry you to New Orleans, and I promise to have you honored there by every means in my power.” Within a month her petition was granted and “Sweetheart” accompanied Sr. Felicite to the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.
Though diminuitive in size, “Sweetheart” has been credited with many spectacular miracles. It was through the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor that the city of New Orleans was spared when a devastating fire threatened the French Quarter and the Ursuline Convent.
Sister Eugenia O’Laughlin’s account of the devastating fire illustrates the rapid response of Our Lady. “Hastily the Superior, Reverend Mother St. Michel, commanded the nuns and school children to leave the building. As she herself turned to go, she was horrified to see Sister St. Anthony, one of the old nuns, climbing the stairs. Following her, Rev. Mother discovered she was carrying the small statue of Our Lady. As the Superior watched, Sr. St. Anthony hurried to the window on the second floor. She set the statue on the sill facing the fire, then knelt and prayed with great confidence: Oh Lady of Prompt Succor, save us or we are lost. At that very instant the wind veered and the flames were blown back over their path of destruction and soon died out.”
Since then, this small statue has had a place of honor in the Ursuline convents in New Orleans. It now stands in a small prayer room in the Shrine.
During both World War I and World War II, soldiers who were husbands, fathers, brothers and sons of Ursuline alumnae brought their ribbons and medals to “Sweetheart” in thanks for their safe return. This early image of Our Lady of Prompt Succor is a vital part of the rich tradition of the Patroness of our city and our state.