If there is any one city in the United States which epitomizes the melting pot idea of this country, it is New Orleans. Not only is this a multi-cultural city now, but when the city was first being populated, it was even more so. The city served as a focal point of the tug-o-war carried out by the French and the Spanish. The Vieux Carré or Old Square (due to it’s structured layout) – what most tourists know as the French Quarter – may bear the name of the French, but everywhere you look there is evidence of just as much Spanish influence. While it means something quite different today, the term Creole originally indicated those who were of the first generation, both Spanish and French, born here in this new part of the country.
Since both of these countries have deep roots in the Catholic faith, it is understandable that the city of New Orleans is predominantly Catholic. It is even home to the St Louis Cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. This cathedral has the distinction of being the oldest, continuously operating cathedral in the United States. It is also home to the ghostly wanderings of two of its former faithful whose lives were centred around church life. .
In 1764, possession of the colony of New Orleans was transfered from France to Spain in the Treaty of Fountainbleau at the end of the French and Indian War. The King of France neglected to inform the citizens of his colony of the Treaty and when the Spanish forces arrived and replaced the French flag with the Spanish one, the colonists believed they were being invaded. The people put together an army led by prominent Creoles of the city and forced the Spaniards to flee to Cuba.
Soon, the new governor of the colony, Don Alejandro O’Reily, returned with reinforcements and retook the city and had the leaders of the rebellion hunted down and shot without due process. The bodies were dragged to the front of the Cathedral and left to rot. He forbade anyone from touching the bodies, allowing them to serve as a lesson for any who would do likewise. Pere Dagobert pleaded with the governor on two occassions, asking that he allow the bodies proper burial, but was refused. Finally, Pere Dagobert took a stand and one rainy night, he and the families of the murdered men took the bodies and gave them proper burial in unmarked graves. Pere Dagobert led the procession, boldly singing out the funeral mass as they went.
Although Pere Dagobert went on to die a natural death, it is said today that on quiet nights when the French Quarter is blanketed by fog, you can hear a ghostly voice singing the Kyrie.
It is said that Friar Antonio de Sedella first came to New Orleans hoping to establish a Spanish Inquisition here in the new colony. His aim ultimately failed and somewhere along the way he changed from an over-zealous man of God to the man more fondly remembered today.
He worked tirelessly with the poor, the imprisioned, the infirm and even the slaves. It’s said that he helped no matter who needed it and no matter their nationality or personal religious affiliation. He was a tireless worker when it came to helping those who fell vicitim to Yellow Fever and worked tirelessly in all manner of life while the epidemic persisted.
When he finally died on January 18, 1829, the whole city mourned his death, both Catholic and Protestant alike. The old friar was laid to rest in St. Louis Cathedral among the people he had served to selflessly. It was widely believed that Pere Antoine had been a living saint. As news of his death spread through the City of New Orleans, throngs of the faithful, convinced in their hearts that Pere Antoine was a saint, demolished the hut on the Rue Dauphine. Even the slightest splinter of wood was carried away to be preserved as a holy relic.
It is said that Pere Antoine still serves his beloved city in the afterlife and he, too, has been seen walking the alley, beside the Cathedral, that bears his name. He is often oblivious to others’ presence though, so intent on reading his breviary.