Jan. 8 is the feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor — patroness of New Orleans or anyone needing the Blessed Mother’s immediate assistance. Use of the title goes back almost three centuries. And when invoked by it, Mary has interceded in decisive ways.
The story begins after Ursuline nuns arrived in New Orleans in 1727, and they established a convent and girls’ school in New Orleans — the first of its kind in what is now the United States. Not long after the territory returned to French control, the Ursulines fled to Cuba for fear of repercussions associated with the anti-religious sentiment of the French Revolution. Receiving a promise of protection in the United States directly from President Thomas Jefferson, they returned to New Orleans.
When one of the Ursuline sisters in charge of the school in New Orleans was in need of help, she wrote to one of her cousins, a religious sister still in France named Mother St. Michel Gensoul. Denied permission to set out for an American mission by her bishop, she sought the only recourse available to her and wrote the pope. She prayed to Mary, saying: “O most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain for me a prompt and favorable answer to this letter, I promise to have you honored at New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.” The pope responded favorably in record time, and she had a statue commissioned of Mary holding the child Jesus, as promised. When Gensoul arrived in New Orleans in 1810, she brought the statue and installed it at the Ursuline convent in New Orleans.
Ever since, throughout the history of New Orleans, Our Lady of Prompt Succor has been invoked in a variety of circumstances, even bringing about miracles. During a great fire in New Orleans in 1812, the Ursulines gathered around the statue and sought Mary’s intercession. As they begged the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, the Ursuline convent was one of the few buildings spared in the neighborhood.
In 1815, it seemed that the American army under General Andrew Jackson’s leadership faced almost certain defeat at the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle of the War of 1812 against the British. The night before the battle, many of New Orleans’ citizens gathered around Mary and invoked her intercession as Our Lady of Prompt Succor.
That Jan. 8, the British lost the battle and the war, and even the future president Jackson acknowledged Mary’s role in it. In 1851, Blessed Pope Pius IX approved celebration of a Jan. 8 feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and Pope Leo XIII granted canonical coronation of the statue in 1894. Many have received graces and favors by invoking Mary under this title, and her intercession is sought especially for safety during hurricane season. A shrine dedicated to Mary as Our Lady of Prompt Succor is in New Orleans.