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!
Updated for 2023.
St. Joseph’s Altars in Abita Springs
St. Jane de Chantal
72040 Maple Street, Abita Springs
Monday, March 20th
8:00AM – Mass, followed by Adoration and Confessions, and the Blessing of the St. Joseph Altar.
10:00AM – the Tupa Tupa
12:00 – 5:00PM – Dinners will be served as long as food is available.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel St. Joseph’s Altar
American Legion Hall Post 16
2031 Ronald Reagan Highway
Meal from noon-4PM or when food runs out. Goodie bags will be available for guests.
St. Joseph’s Altars in Mandeville
Our Lady of the Lake
312 Lafitte Street
March 18 and March 19
Times: March 18: 1pm -5:30pm | March 19: 9am-4pm
Blessing: Saturday, March 18: 1PM
Tupa Tupa: Sunday, March 19: 9AM
Meal: March 19, beginning at 10AM until all food has been served
St. Joseph’s Altars in Slidell
Our Lady of Lourdes
400 Westchester Pl.
St. Luke the Evangelist
910 Cross Gates Boulevard
March 18th and 19th
Opens with a Mass at 8:45AM. Cookies available for a small donation.
58203 LA 433
Opens with a Mass at 10AM then viewing in the Family Life Center
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Do you know of any altars in Covington or Mandeville?
Thank you for your beautiful post.
I’m sorry but this year I don’t think there were any. Hopefully they’ll be back in 2022!