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Convent is the only remaining French Colonial building in the U.S.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 6th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Graceful and elegant, the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans remains the sole surviving French colonial building still standing in the United States. Built in 1752, the convent is testament to a group of fearless nun, who travelled by ship from France to stake out a new order in America.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Ursulines, or Sisters of Ursula were the first of many orders of religious women that travelled to New Orleans and founded schools, orphanages, and asylums to minister to the poor.

The sisters arrived in New Orleans in 1727, which by that time was little more than mud and swampland. Their journey to the New World was an arduous one, as many of them were lost at sea to either pirates or disease. Once settled, the Ursulines provided the first real medical care to the area. The Ursulines also established the area's first school and an orphanage for girls.

They order also raised girls and young women shipped over from France as marriage material for the local men. Teaching the girls everything from languages to homemaking, the Ursulines laid the foundation for countless New Orleans families in the process.

The convent is a rare survival of the disastrous 18th-century fires that destroyed the rest of the French Quarter, and is a striking example of French colonial architecture today.

The convent now functions as an archive for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, with documents dating back to 1718. The Sisters moved uptown in 1824, where they remain today.

St. Mary's Church, adjoining the convent, was added in 1845. The original convent, school, and gardens covered several French Quarter blocks. The formal gardens, church, and first floor of the old convent are open for guided tours.

It must be said that some visitors to the grounds have reported their disappointment with the tours. Docents' histories reportedly "ramble all over the place, rarely painting the full, thrilling picture of these extraordinary ladies to whom New Orleans owes so much."

Of special interest are the herb gardens, which inspired one of the nuns to become the first pharmacist in the United States: she was never licensed, but she published a list of herbs that cured various maladies.

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