Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana Bishop Charles Jenkins celebrated the first official commemoration of the Feast of Frances Joseph Gaudet (1861-1934) on December 30.
Gaudet was a woman of African American and Native American heritage whose faith and charity in the face of racism and indifference had an extraordinary impact on education and juvenile justice in the city of New Orleans.
The commemoration took place at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, a traditionally African-American congregation in the Episcopal Church.
Commemoration of Gaudet was added to the Episcopal Church calendar on a trial use basis (Resolution A064) at the June 2006 General Convention.
"Mrs. Gaudet is a Christian hero for our times," said Jenkins in a diocesan news release issued before the commemorative liturgy. "Amongst older folks in New Orleans, Mrs. Gaudet is rightly remembered with gratitude and pride for her life-long service in education and penal reform."
Jenkins marked the occasion with the ordination of three candidates to the transitional diaconate. The ordinands were Ann Benton Fraser and Toby Summerour, both senior seminarians of the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, and Nelson Tennison, who is diocesan trained.
The ordinations took place in Gaudet Hall of St. Luke's Church, which was flooded by Hurricane Katrina but now restored. It has become a community center, funded by the diocese, where meals are served and social services are offered to area residents.
St. Luke's has also opened Gaudet Hall to the youth of the community and provides art and drama classes, leadership training, conflict resolution and other services to the students of nearby John McDonogh High School and other public schools in the city.
Gaudet was born in a log cabin in Mississippi in 1861 and was the daughter of a former slave. She was raised by her grandparents and lived with her brother in New Orleans where she attended both public and private schools and later studied at Straight College. She was a seamstress by trade but later dedicated much of her time to prayer and social reform.
After the death of her second husband, she pursued these aims full time, working with the Prison Reform Association, both on behalf of those unjustly accused and also writing letters and providing clothing for prisoners. Initially her efforts were on behalf of black prisoners, but expanded to include white inmates as well.
Following her return from a Women's Christian Temperance Union convention in Scotland in 1900, Gaudet began to work to reform the juvenile justice system in Louisiana. She took in many young non-violent offenders and dedicated herself to helping them turn their lives around.
She purchased a farm in what is now the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans and founded the Colored Industrial Home and School (later the Gaudet Normal and Industrial School), an innovative boarding school for the children of working mothers. Until 1922 she served as the principal and gave the facility to the Episcopal diocese on the condition that they continue it or use the proceeds from its sale to promote the education of African American children.
When the home closed in the 1950's, monies were invested and the endowment continues to provide scholarships to African American children and youth through Episcopal Community Services. Portions also benefit Gaudet Hall.