If one were to be historically accurate, St. Mary’s Church at 1116 Chartres St. is a slightly older building than St. Louis Cathedral.
 
Although parts of the cathedral date back to 1727, the bulk of the cathedral-basilica was rebuilt in 1850 and rededicated in 1860. St. Mary’s Church, meanwhile, was dedicated in 1845 as Our Lady of Victory Church and served as the place of worship for the bishops and archbishops of New Orleans when they were in residence at the Old Ursuline Convent.
 
What does all this mean for prospective brides and grooms?
 
St. Mary’s Church is what is known as a “filial” church of the cathedral, and it is once again available as a sacred venue for Catholic weddings, with the additional benefit of having the attached Old Ursuline Convent, the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, available as a stunning and historic reception site.

So close, so historic
“I think that’s what they like about it – they literally can take a few steps and cross over from the church into the museum and then into the reception,” said Father Philip Landry, rector of St. Louis Cathedral, which also oversees the Catholic Cultural Heritage Museum in the Old Ursuline Convent. “If they have the reception at the convent, the guests also have a chance to view whatever museum exhibit is available. They are getting a lot.”
 
The first wedding reception in the rear courtyard of the Old Ursuline Convent took place last October, said cathedral wedding coordinator Kevin Charpentier, and since then interest in using St. Mary’s as the wedding church and the convent as the reception site has grown by word of mouth. Apart from the convenience of having the Mass and reception in the same square block, there is the historical significance of both venues.
 
“We’re finding that it’s mostly local girls who want to get married at St. Mary’s,” Charpentier said. “Many of the brides attended Ursuline Academy, and they all love it. For most of them, their grandmothers and great grandmothers were married there, and there are some brides of Italian descent.”

Once served Italian Catholics
St. Mary’s was known as “St. Mary’s Italian” in the 1900s because it served the large Italian population of the French Quarter. After Hurricane Katrina, the archdiocese decided not to celebrate regular weekend Masses there, but a few years later, it allowed the celebration of weddings.
 
Then, when the Old Ursuline Convent began hosting more receptions, using a large white tent in the rear courtyard, Father Landry decided last year it would be beneficial to offer the convent as a regular wedding reception site.
 
The tent is large enough to accommodate 250 people, and if more covered space is needed, additional tents can be erected on either side of the main tent. Also, for especially hot months, air conditioning can be pumped in to keep guests cool.
 
Father Landry likes to invite prospective brides and grooms to other receptions so they can see how the space can be decorated and function as a wonderful venue.
 
“We like them to see how it can be set up to look, possibly for their own wedding,” Father Landry said. “Most of the brides have chosen the site after they see how it can be transformed with the chandeliers and the air conditioning system and the flooring. It really becomes a beautiful event.”

Nice seating arrangements
Charpentier said St. Louis Cathedral can comfortably seat 700 people, with about 900 as a maximum number. St. Mary’s normal seating capacity is about 250, with an upper limit of 300.
 
“The interest (in St. Mary’s) has just snowballed,” Charpentier said. “In June, we actually did the receptions for diaconate and priestly ordinations. In one case, people were doing a wedding reception that night, and the people doing the wedding that night actually provided the air conditioning for the ordination.”
 
The cathedral celebrates more than 100 weddings each year, and Charpentier estimates St. Mary’s will do between 40 to 50 this year.
 
One added benefit of hosting the reception at the Old Ursuline Convent is that the couple hires an outside caterer, which can help keep costs within a certain budget range, Charpentier said.
 
Since St. Mary’s has just one Mass on weekends – 5:30 p.m. on Sunday – it is usually available at any other times for weddings. The cathedral’s wedding times are more limited because of its full Mass and confession schedules.
 
For more information on St. Mary’s or St. Louis Cathedral, call 525-9585.
 
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.