Visit this historic home and seven other examples of New Orleans’ vernacular architecture at PRC’s Spring Home Tour presented by Entablature Design + Build and Entablature Realty on April 22 and 23.
History of Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel
On the campus of Cabrini High School, a small white masonry chapel, known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel, nestles behind the three-story former orphanage, the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum. Both buildings were erected by Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini with the financial support of Captain Salvatore Pizzati and were dedicated in 1906.
St. Frances Cabrini was canonized in 1947, the first U.S. citizen to become a saint.
Mother Cabrini, the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, arrived in New Orleans in 1892. She established an orphanage on St. Phillip Street in “Little Palermo,” an Italian enclave of the French Quarter. Due to overcrowding, Mother Cabrini acquired a plot of land on Esplanade Avenue, where a new three-story orphanage was built in 1905, the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum.
The sisters realized there was a need for another all-girls Catholic high school in the area. In 1959, under the leadership of Sr. Aloysius Almerico, the orphanage was restructured into Cabrini High School. The student population grew quickly and, in 1965, the Moss Street complex was added. The original orphanage building is now the Esplanade building on campus.
The Sacred Heart Chapel’s arched stained-glass windows were the gifts of various donors, and installation began in 1922. Because the windows were added at various times, they are the creations of several glass studios. Two were signed by the Duprato Studio of Chicago and New York, according to the PRC’s Stained Glass in Sacred Places tour.
“Each window cost $500,” equivalent to about $8,400 today, wrote Jane D. Bartlet, a 1970 Cabrini alumna, in a history of the chapel. Donors’ names are on each pane, with many donating to honor loved ones. Although the window installation took place after Mother Cabrini’s death, the school knows that she chose the saints that appear on the older windows, Bartlet wrote.
Some of the windows seem to combine European and American glass. To avoid high tariffs, American studios often imported pieces of cut and stained glass and then assembled them in this country, according to the PRC’s Stained Glass tour.
“The stained-glass windows complement the beautiful canvas mural attached to the ceiling that depicts Mother Cabrini,” Bartlet wrote in the chapel’s history. “The rich wood wainscoting and floors of the chapel reflect the light which filters through the colored glass of the windows, creating an ethereal atmosphere within the walls. When one enters this holy place, one immediately experiences a sense of peace. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel is a true treasure, both historical and spiritual.”
In the summer of 2012, restoration of the chapel began, Bartlet wrote. “Cracks were mended, walls were painted, and some of the amazing stained-glass windows were cleaned, repaired and restored. Then in 2019, Archbishop Gregory Aymond officially designated the Sacred Heart Chapel at Cabrini High School, its Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini bedroom and exhibit room as a local shrine.”
— Information provided by Cabrini High School and the PRC’s Stained Glass in Sacred Places tour.