Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS-- More than three years after its dramatic closure, one Uptown church will be reopening this week for daily mass. The announcement of the return of a daily mass to St. Henry's Catholic Church, came in the form of a letter from Archbishop Gregory Aymond. It was read aloud during a rosary service at the church on Saturday.
"Please extend to the people of St. Henry church my pastoral concern and willingness to continue to work with them for the greater glory of God and the building up of this local church," Archbishop Aymond said in the letter.
St. Henry's Catholic Church closed in 2009, after the Archdiocese of New Orleans said it could no longer afford to keep several churches open.
"People were sitting on pins and needles because we were told the Archbishop was sending a message here this morning, about future potential use of the building," said Alden Hagardorn, a St. Henry's parishioner who helped lead the effort to reopen the church. "People were somewhat excited, somewhat afraid."
Part of the fear stemmed from their heartbreak during the past several years. In 2008, the Archdiocese announced several churches would be suppressed-- closing for financial reasons. St. Henry's was one of them, but its parishioners organized to try and keep it open.
"That's why we were at church 24-7, until they sent the police to take us out," said parishioner Doris Smith. "It was devastating, but we were determined-- we weren't going to give up."
Eventually, though, the Archdiocese closed the church in January of 2009. Still, parishioners met outside the church to pray.
"We were outside, if it was 100 degrees or 30 degrees, rain or shine," Hagardorn said. "We couldn't get in the church at all."
Since that time, however, the Archdiocese's stand softened. Archbishop Gregory Aymond took over from Archbishop Alfred Hughes. The church eventually reopened for special occasions, and later, for a weekly rosary service. The decision to hold daily mass there, Monday through Friday, is partly a matter of cost: a smaller St. Henry's is cheaper to cool and heat than the larger nearby St. Stephen's Church, which absorbed the parishioners after the closure in 2009.
Either way, Doris Smith is thrilled. Seven generations of her family have attended St. Henry's and she hopes that tradition can now continue.
"That's the future I'd like to see for St. Henry's. I may not be around to see it, you know, given my age," said Smith, who is approaching 80. "But, you know, my children and grandchildren will still be here to see it."
Parishioners also said the return of daily mass can begin the healing process in what was a bitter fight.
"I think some mistakes were made, but I think this heals a lot of wounds," Hagardorn said, "and I think we're going to start seeing a lot more people getting involved in our church and hopefully others throughout the community."
The return of daily mass at St. Henry's begins Friday, June 15th at 6:30 a.m. Mass will be held Monday through Friday at 6:30 am. On Saturday, July 14th, the Archbishop will celebrate mass at St. Henry's just before the church's 23rd annual celebration reunion.