The former St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, a historic Black parish property in New Orleans, will soon be home to a new performing arts center named after one of the building’s most famous acquaintances.
This summer, a group of scholars announced their plan to open the André Cailloux Center for Performing Arts and Cultural Justice—succeeding the Southern Repertory Theater, which occupied the property until its closure this summer.
The Cailloux Center will join the two other properties within the Rose Collaborative, a group founded in 2010 that owns the shuttered church, rectory, and a nearby school building in the city's Seventh Ward neighborhood. Before its renovation in 2018, the complex had sat vacant for more than a decade.
“The Cailloux Center views this undertaking as an act of reclamation for both the historic Indigenous and Black presences along the Bayou Road corridor,” the organization said in June.
“Central to its mission is a commitment to promoting the power of the performing arts, addressing issues of cultural justice, modeling cooperative leadership, and empowering economic freedom for global majority-led organizations.”
The new project is being headed by a trio of local Black professionals, including Dr. David Robinson-Morris, a former professor and administrator at Xavier University of Louisiana who now operates a strategic consulting firm. Also co-founding the Center is Dr. Robin G. Vander, who teaches English, Black studies, and performance studies at XULA, and Lauren E. Turner, the founder and director of a local theater production company championing creators of color.
In their announcement, they note the importance of Black performing arts in the diasporic culture of South Louisiana and the surrounding region, and how creators have “struggled to financially sustain themselves and their work.”
“By creating an organization that would provide space and infrastructure, the Cailloux Center is addressing this and other historic inequities within the performing arts community and the community at-large.”
The Cailloux Center plans to house seven organizations to comprise its programming, each of which will conduct performances during its designated season. Three of them will consist of “legacy residents” connected to the African-American community in New Orleans. Additionally, Junebug Productions—founded by the late John O’Neal in 1980—will serve as the center’s first “Legacy Partner”.
Funding for the new venture is being provided by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and a Mellon Foundation grant awarded to Turner’s production company, No Dream Deferred-NOLA, will also assist help offset costs for the center’s programming.
The center’s Black Catholic namesake, André Cailloux, served as one of the first Black officers in US military history, having been elevated to captain for the Union Army in 1862. He soon became one of the first to fall in combat in the Civil War, and following his death, was celebrated as a war hero and served as a major inspiration for African Americans to join the Union ranks.
Cailloux’s funeral, held at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in 1863, was celebrated by Fr Claude Paschal Maistre, a French immigrant priest known to history as one of the earliest clerical advocates for Black liberation and anti-racist activism. At the time of the requiem, Maistre and the parish were under interdict from Bishop Jean-Marie Odin, CM, in large part due to Maistre’s open contradiction of the bishop’s Confederate sympathies.
Channeling Cailloux and his surrounding legacy, the new center named in his honor, slated to open in early 2023, looks to revive the same spirit that once pulsed within the St. Rose walls.
“Understanding that history is never past but always carried with us in the present, the Center spurs new revolutions and continues the pursuit of freedom and justice by engaging the imagination and (re)enlivening the human spirit through the performing and cultural arts,” the Cailloux Center organizers said.
“Through the arts and in public conversations, the Center seeks to render visible and disrupt institutionalized systems of oppression, to use storytelling and remembering as ways of honoring Black culture and reclaiming identity, and to promote self-determination in association with members of the New Orleans community.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).