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!
Many altars have been canceled for 2021 due to concerns with covid-19. We hope to see them back in 2022!
St. Joseph’s Altars in Slidell
St. Luke the Evangelist
(910 Cross Gates Boulevard) – Fridday, March 19
A reduced size altar will be hosted to honor St. Joseph. Viewing March 19 in the Community Room, following 8:45 a.m. Mass; also following all Sunday Masses (7:30, 9, 11 a.m.) on March 21.
St. Genevieve Knight of Columbus
(58203 LA 433) – Friday, March 19
10 a.m. rosary and litany of St. Joseph silent prayer; Stations of the Cross begin 1 p.m. with consecration to St. Joseph. St. Joseph Altar goodie bags may be picked up in church or in drive-by beginning at 11 a.m. Due to COVID restrictions, no meals offered.
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Hi there, I’m Christy! I am a Slidell native and currently live on the north side of town with my husband and our two girls, ages four and six. By day I manage for Panera Bread, and by night I bake and decorate for my home business, The Little Things Cakes. Thank you for stopping by and being a part of our parenting community!