At the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the French and Spanish population of New Orleans was predominantly Roman Catholic, however, there were many persons of English ancestry. The following appeal appeared in the Louisiana Gazette of April 30, 1805:
“The writer, long a resident of New Orleans, and educated in the Christian faith, cannot but deplore the general neglect of pious duties, manifested in the present English population. Who among us recollects to have heard an English sermon in this country! Is it not a serious reproach upon our morals, that no measures, have yet been taken for introducing among us the benign influence of the Gospel! To our shame be it spoken, that while every political dissension has engaged our feelings and interference, we have never yet taken one step for introducing among us a single minister for performing the ‘last’ Christian offices for a dying friend or kinsman! …we ought to convene, and determine the means of providing a church and a Clergyman of approved character, talents, and piety…. The writer therefore hopes the present hint may give more circulation to the idea, and inspire the consideration of those whose duty to God, and their fellow men, call them to promote the execution of so pious a duty.”
This appeal led to the founding of the first non-Roman Catholic congregation in the entire Louisiana Purchase territory, Christ’s Church in New Orleans.
In June of the same year 53 Protestants responded to the appeal and met to form a religious association. They solicited funds for the building of a church, planned to secure an act of incorporation and voted to elect the denomination. The ballot results were: Episcopalian, 45 votes; Presbyterian, 7 votes; Methodist, 1 vote. Thus the Episcopal congregation of Christ’s Church was established.
A call was sent to various colleges and churches in the east for recommendations for a suitable clergyman. On November 16, 1805, Philander Chase, a young minister from Poughkeepsie arrived with a letter of introduction from Bishop Benjamin Moore of New York. The founders approved of young Chase and at eleven o’clock in the morning of the following day, Philander Chase preached his first sermon at the Cabildo on the Place d’Armes.
Services were held in various public buildings until 1816 when the first Christ church was erected at the riverside corner of Canal and Bourbon streets. No sketch exists of this first Christ Church. Records show it was designed by Henry Boneval Latrobe, son of the distinguished architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe. The building was octagonal in shape, 60′ in diameter with a domes roof surmounted by a cupola and constructed in brick.
By 1833 the first church building proved to be too small for the growing congregation. By 1855 plans for a new church building on the same site were drawn by the noted architects James Gallier, Sr. and James Dakin. The new building was in the design of a Greek Temple, fronted by six Ionic columns supporting a pediment. It was consecrated on March 26, 1837.
In 1845 Dr. Francis Lister Hawkes became rector of Christ Church and he submitted plans for a third church building. One of the plans had been drawn by Thomas Wharton, drawing teacher and architect. In 1846 the Vestry contracted James Gallier, son of the famous Gallier who designed the second church, to build the new church following Hawks’ and Wharton’s plans, for $56,000. The third building was Gothic in style, with buttresses and a central tower, and was erected on the lakeside corner of Canal and Dauphine streets. At this time the second building was bought by Judah Touro and became a synagogue. The Gothic style church served the Christ’s Church congregation for 40 years. In 1873 Jewell’s Crescent City said of this building, “Christ Church is one of the most elegant church structures in New Orleans.” Neither this nor the earlier buildings still survive.
By the late 19th Century, New Orleans had grown tremendously. Most of the parishioners of Christ Church lived in uptown New Orleans and the church was relocated in that area. The present property on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street was purchased. The cornerstone for this present Christ Church was laid on June 10, 1886. This fourth building, also Gothic in style, was designed by architect Lawrence B. Valk of New York. Through a devoted benefactor, the Chapel of matching design was added in 1889. Since it was debt free, it was actually consecrated before the Cathedral!
In 1959 the latest expansion program was begun-providing space for administrative offices, the Church School, library, assembly hall, and service areas. The architects were Freret and Wolf. The Gothic design of the Cathedral and Chapel were followed.
Christ Church has been fortunate in having a procession of distinguished and dedicated rectors and deans. James F. Hull followed Philander Chase, who went on to become the first Bishop of Ohio in 1819 (where he founded Kenyon college), the first Bishop of Illinois in 1835, and in 1852 he became Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church; Nathaniel Wheaton; Francis L. Hawkes (who was chosen the first president of the University of Louisiana, which later became Tulane University); Edmund Neville; William Thomas Leacock, who served Christ Church for 30 years; Alexander I. Drysdale and David Sessums, who left to become the 4th Bishop of Louisiana, an office he held for 38 years.
Under Bishop Sessums’ sponsorship, Christ Church became a Cathedral in 1891 and young Quincy Ewing served briefly as its first Dean. He was followed by F. J. Paradise, Charles L. Wells, William A. Barr, J.D. Cummins, William H. Nes, Albert R. Stuart, who was elected Bishop of Georgia in 1954, William E. Craig, Leonard E. Nelson, Richard Rowland, David Lowry, Dr. John Senette, and the present Dean, David A. duPlantier.
Christ Church serves not only its parishioners, but the community as a whole. It was instrumental in founding the chapel for French Protestants, started St. Peter’s Mission (1846) which later became St. Anna’s Episcopal Church; founded a Children’s Home in 1860, aided in founding Trinity, Calvary, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal churches. In a broader context, Christ Church has a special interest in Sewanee, the University of the South, which was in part founded by the first bishop of Louisiana, The Right Reverend Leonidas Polk.
We are not a church who looks simply to the past but strives to proclaim the gospel of the Risen Lord in the present and future.