In 1812, a terrible fire ravaged the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. A high wind rapidly drove the flames toward the Ursuline convent, and the order was given for the nuns to leave the cloister. Sister Anthony, a lay sister, placed a small statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on a window sill facing the fire, and she and Mother Saint Michel prayed, "Our Lady of Prompt Succor, we are lost unless you hasten to our help." Instantaneously, the wind changed, and the convent was out of danger. Once again, Our Lady had hastened to set her seal of approval on the work of the Ursulines and the spread of the faith in the South.
The Ursuline Monastery of New Orleans was founded under the auspices of Louis XV of France by a band of French Ursulines in 1727. Soon after their arrival, the nuns began to teach the children of the colonists, to instruct the Indian and Negro races, and to nurse the sick in a hospital placed under their care. Other sisters came from France,and in 1763 when Louisiana became a Spanish possession, Spanish sisters helped to carry on the work. In l800 when Louisiana again became French territory, the Spanish sisters left for Havana Cuba, fearing that the horrors of the recent French revolution would be repeated in the colonies. Thus, by l803, only seven Ursulines remained to carry on the boarding school, day school, orphanage, courses of instruction for the Indians and Negroes, and the nursing of the sick. The superior appealed to a cousin of hers in France, Mother St.Michel, for aid and personnel.
Mother St. Michel had been driven from her convent by the Reign of Terror, and as soon as the first indication of religious tolerance appeared, she had, with another young woman, opened a boarding school for young girls which was beginning to realize all the hopes the bishop of her diocese had for it. Her bishop was happy to have such a zealous worker among his flock, and did not want to lose her. On receiving the appeal from her cousin, Mother St. Michel asked her spiritual director for his advice. He demurred. On direct appeal to the bishop, the answer came, "Only the Pope can give you authorization." This reply amounted almost to a definite "no", as the Pope was in Rome, a virtual prisoner of Napoleon, and his jailors were under strict injunction not to allow him to correspond with anyone. Additionally, there was no reliable way of sending messages. Nonetheless, Mother St. Michel wrote her request, concluding, "Most Holy Father, I appeal to your apostolic tribunal. I am ready to submit to your decision. Speak. Faith teaches me that you are the voice of the Lord. I await your orders. `Go' or `Stay', from Your Holiness will be the same to me."
The letter had been written for three months, but no opportunity had presented itself to send it. One day, as she was praying before a statue of Mary, Mother felt inspired to call on the Queen of Heaven with these words, "O Most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain a prompt and favorable answer to my letter, I promise to have you honored in New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor."
That Mother St. Michel's trustful prayer was pleasing to Our Lady, and that she wished to be honored in the New World under this title are shown by the prompt and favorable reply she received. The letter was dispatched on March 19, l809, and the reply is dated in Rome on April 28.
That the reply directed Mother to place herself at the head of religious aspirants and go to Louisiana is miraculous in itself. The Pope was well aware of the need for workers such as Mother in France. Many would be needed to regenerate that which the Revolution had torn down. Nonetheless, he gave his approval of her voyage, and her bishop acknowledged that his hopes to keep her in France were defeated. He requested the privilege of blessing the statue of Our Lady which Mother St. Michel had commissioned according to her promise.
On the arrival of the pious missionaries in New Orleans in December of l8l0, this precious statue was solemnly installed in the convent chapel, and from that time the veneration to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor has been constantly growing and spreading all across the United States.
The victory of Andrew Jackson's American forces over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, in l8l5, is another favor attributed to the all-powerful intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Before the battle, the terror-stricken, weeping mothers, sisters, and daughters of Jackson's valiant little band spent the night in prayer in the chapel of the convent. They begged Our Lady for help for their men on the plains of Chalmette. On the morning of January the 8th, the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor was moved above the main altar and the Ursulines made a vow to have a Mass of Thanksgiving sung annually should the Americans be victorious. At the moment of Communion, a courier rushed into the chapel announcing the enemy`s defeat. Jackson himself acknowledged Divine intervention on his behalf, and came in person with his staff to thank the nuns for their prayers. The vow made by the Ursulines has been faithfully kept for over 150 years.
The chronicles of the Ursuline monastery record numerous favors, both spiritual and temporal, wrought through the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Rome has officially approved the devotion. By Papal decree in l85l, Pius IX authorized the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the singing of the yearly Mass of Thanksgiving on January 8. In 1894, Pope Leo XIII indulgenced the Confraternity, and in l897 raised it to the rank of an Arch-confraternity.
The statue was solemnly crowned by the papal delegate in l895. This was the first ceremony of this type in the United States. In l928, a new shrine in Our Lady's honor was consecrated, and by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the Holy See approved and confirmed the choice of Our Lady of Prompt Succor as the principal patroness of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. The patronal feast was set for January 15. In l960, the solemn sesquicentennial of the arrival of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Louisiana was celebrated.
When we invoke Our Lady under this title, we are telling her that our needs are great and pressing, and that we hope and expect much from her. Our confidence need know no bounds as Our Lady's power equals her love. May devotion to Mary under this hope-inspiring title continue to grow and spread.