Catholicism is as ingrained into southern Louisiana culture as Mardi Gras parades and a Friday night fish fry. We ask Saint Anthony to help us find lost car keys, bury a statue of Saint Joseph in the yard when we want to sell our homes, and sprinkle holy water on our houses to ward off hurricane damage. The Saint Joseph Altar is one of these beloved south Louisiana traditions, and a great glimpse of the rich and colorful history our area shares with Italian Catholics.
The Saint Joseph Altar hails all the way back to Sicily. It is said that the Sicilians prayed to Saint Joseph for help during a time of drought and famine. When rain soon fell, they were so thankful they constructed an altar in his honor, including food from the bountiful harvest so those less fortunate could share in the abundance. When Sicilian immigrants began taking root in New Orleans, the Saint Joseph Altar was one of many traditions they continued in their new home.
Today, Catholics in our area still build altars of varying size and complexity each year around the feast day of Saint Joseph. They are generally centered around a local church, and include a wealth of flowers, photos, statues, art, breads, and fruit, most of which are as symbolic as they are decorative. Mudrica, or sawdust, is made of toasted breadcrumbs and points to Saint Joseph’s roots as a carpenter. Pupaculova, a braided bread with colored eggs peeking out, reminds us that Easter is around the corner. A dozen whole fish symbolize the twelve apostles. Fava beans, often referred to as “lucky beans” are dried and freely given to altar-goers as a token of good luck and prosperity, as this was the main crop that thrived after the drought.
While Altars are abundant in New Orleans, the Northshore has many options as well. You don’t have to be a parishioner or even a Catholic to attend! All are welcome to explore the altar and enjoy offerings of traditional Sicilian dishes and cookies. Typically, a small donation is appreciated, but no payment is required. Below is a list we’ve compiled of local altars, but please let us know if you know of any we may have missed!
St. Joseph’s Altars in Covington
Most Holy Trinity
(501 Holy Trinity Drive) – Thursday, March 19
Mass will be celebrated at 8:45 am, with blessing of the altar immediately following. At 10:00 am, children portraying the Holy Family will process into the Family Life Center Assembly Room to be the first to eat, then food will be served to the public.
St. Joseph’s Altar in Mandeville
Mary Queen of Peace
(1501 West Causeway Approach) – Saturday, March 21
Altar will be open from 5:00 – 8:30 pm in the school cafeteria.
St. Joseph’s Altars in Madisonville
(306 Mary Street) – Sunday March 15
Blessing for the Altar is Saturday, March 14, 5:00 -6:00 pm. Public viewing and serving will be Sunday, March 15, from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm.
St. Joseph’s Altars in Pearl River
Sts. Peter & Paul
(66192 St. Mary Drive) – Thursday, March 19
Mass will be celebrated at 8:00 am with the Blessing of the Altar at 11:00 am, followed by Tupa Tupa (Ceremony of the Saints). Meals served to the public from 12:00 – 4:00 pm.
St. Joseph’s Altars in Slidell
St. Luke the Evangelist
(910 Cross Gates Boulevard) – Thursday, March 19
Mass will be celebrated at 10:00 am, Altar blessing and lunch to follow.
Our Lady of Lourdes
(400 Westchester Boulevard) – Saturday, March 14
Altar will be available for public viewing from 12:00 – 6:00 pm in the school gym. Food will be served beginning at noon.
(58203 LA 433) – Thursday, March 19
Altar will be open from 10:30 am – 3:00 pm in the Family Life Center.
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