Welcome to Saint Luke's Episcopal Church, a parish church of the Diocese of Louisiana serving the New Orleans community since 1855. Our beautiful church and campus are home to a vibrant, diverse, and growing congregation who come from around the city and around the world. We believe that we are blessed to be part of the rebirth of New Orleans and while many of us are still in the process of rebuilding our homes and businesses, we do so with a certainty that God has a plan for us and for this church. Saint Luke’s is located on North Dorgenois Street, a block off Broad Street between Barracks and Governor Nicholls, in the historic Tremé neighborhood.
The site is an ideal location for visitors interested in both the unique architectural and human history of New Orleans. Although it has been an Episcopal Church for almost forty years, the structure began as a Greek Orthodox church, and retains distinctive 19th-century architectural features—both inside and outside—from the Greek Orthodox faith. Additionally, the church has striking stained glass windows [commissioned in 1990 from “Stained Glass By Shenandoah” of Fort Royal, Virginia]. The windows include traditional Christian scenes and two modern African-American windows: one honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and one honoring Blessed Frances Joseph Gaudet, an educator and prison reformer recognized as a saint in the Episcopal church.
The congregation which acquired the church building in 1976 is predominantly African-American but includes people of diverse backgrounds, among them immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. With this recent congregation and the historic ties to the local Greek community, the site is especially reflective of New Orleans’ ethnically diverse heritage.
The location is suitable for walking and driving visitors, close to other historic sites in Tremé and a 20-minute walk or short drive from the New Orleans Museum of Art at City Park. It is two blocks away from John McDonough Senior High School, named for the 19thcentury philanthropist, and most recently featured in Oprah Winfrey’s reality series “Blackboard Wars” on modern school reform in the United States.
A 2013 article in the Baton Rouge Advocate highlighted the particular importance of the Greek Orthodox background of Saint Luke’s. According to Dennis Persica, “In 1866, Holy Trinity Church was built at 1222 N. Dorgenois St., and is considered the first Greek Orthodox church in North America.” Citing the work of New Orleans historical geographer Richard Campanella, Persica described the first Greek Orthodox community in the mid-1800s as a group of Greek merchants. However, by 1930 their numbers totaled at least 400 people, half of whom lived within a mile of this historic church. Persica noted that the church also served some Middle Eastern Orthodox Christians, sometimes referred to as “Syrians” although their origins were from a larger area than present-day Syria; and also Russians and Slavs of the Orthodox faith. In 1976 the Greek Orthodox Church sold the church and adjacent hall to the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and it became home to Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, a community also with roots in the mid-19th century.
According to church history compiled from archival records in the mid 20th century, a so-called “Negro church” in New Orleans was established in 1855 by the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, first Episcopal bishop of Louisiana for the “provision for religious instruction of the colored race.” In 1855, he met with several “free people of color” in New Orleans to organize the church later named St. Thomas. The church was led by the Reverend Charles H. Williamson who was an English priest from Quebec, Canada.
There was major disruption to the Episcopal Church and to African-American worship during the Civil War. The next documented activities of the “Negro Church” occurred during the tenure of Louisiana’s second Bishop, Joseph Wilmer who acquired a church building at the corner of Calliope and Prytania Streets and set up a Negro Mission in 1877 named for Saint Philip. This original building was sold in 1885 to settle church debts. In January 1887 the church was reorganized during a meeting with the Bishop at the rector’s home on Baronne Street (where services were held). The reorganized church became known as St. Luke’s. The congregation purchased two lots and a house on Fourth Street at Carondelet Street and the first service in the new church building was held on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1889.
In a series of often racially charged controversies from the 1920s to the 1940s, the predominantly white Episcopal Diocese lobbied the predominantly black Saint Luke’s Church seeking its relocation from Fourth and Carondelet. The church did eventually move to a location at General Taylor and Clara Streets in uptown New Orleans. By this time the church had at least 250 members and was granted parish church status. St. Luke’s moved to its current site in 1976. Since 1976 the church has often faced challenges related to membership growth and financial health. However, St. Luke’s has never returned to a mission status since becoming a parish in 1945. The physical infrastructure now comprises the church building, a hall/community center, and a rectory or priest’s residence--Clark House, located at 1325 Governor Nicholls Street.
The church hall is named for Frances Gaudet (1861-1934). In 1919, the Episcopal Diocese took over the Colored Industrial and Normal School, founded in 1902 by Frances A. Joseph Gaudet, which occupied 105 acres at the corner of Gentilly Boulevard and the Industrial Canal. The school remained in operation for thirty-three years. The land in Gentilly was sold by the Diocese in 1966. Proceeds from the sale were deposited into the Gaudet Trust which is still administered by Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana for small educational grants. Because of Gaudet’s visionary work not only for education and prison reform but with the international Women’s Christian Temperance Union, in 2010 the Episcopal Church of the United States named her an Episcopal Saint. Her Feast Day is celebrated on December 30th, and Saint Luke’s Church is her national shrine. In addition to the dedicated stained glass window, the church also houses an artistic icon and altar in her honor.
The other unique altar in the church includes memorabilia and artistic offerings sent from Episcopal churches around the country to commemorate their role in rebuilding this historic church and the wider city.