Patrick M. Schoen discusses ways his family’s funeral business meets Covid 19 challenges while staying true to local culture

This story appeared in the June issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

I’m a Preservationist
Patrick M. Schoen – Managing Partner, Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home

 

In New Orleans, our unique funeral traditions are such a culturally important part of the city. With coronavirus fears and restrictions on gatherings, how have funerals changed during this time?

Funerals have changed dramatically because of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and restrictions on gatherings. Before COVID-19, immediate and extended families and friends would gather to remember, grieve and console one another. Gatherings have been restricted to 10 or less of the immediate family to comply with the city’s order. Because of social distancing, the customary ways we greet, pay respects and offer condolences have been disrupted. Hugging, sympathy kisses and shaking of hands are all actions that are a normal part of mourning and the grieving process but are no longer offered for the safety of those involved. In an effort to allow more people to be a part of the process, we have taken steps to allow the complimentary live-streaming of the general visitation and services for those who cannot travel, who are sick and in quarantine or at higher risk. This ability was added back in 2016 with the addition of our new chapel. Families are also using social media video to allow family members at home to tell their loved one goodbye at the casket.

 

Do these restrictions on gatherings make it harder for families to find closure?

The mourning process has been changed by the fact that loved ones now have to wait until gatherings return to normal for full closure. The visitation, viewing, service and burial each play an important part in the grieving process. They along with the family’s traditions are the vehicles by which family and friends gather to support one another. The guidelines and restrictions in place have delayed this process by pushing the normal gatherings back until people feel safe. We plan to host these gathering for the families we serve once the restrictions are lifted.

 

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Jacob Schoen & Son has been in the funeral business for six generations. It’s interesting to think that your family members faced pandemics, wars, hurricanes and other disasters over the years as they offered funeral services. Do you have any of the company’s old records? Do you know how they handled the challenges faced in previous eras?

My family and our business have seen the ups and downs alongside of New Orleans families for over 146 years. Ironically, it was the Yellow Fever epidemic that started my family’s business in 1874. We do have some of the old records, although Katrina destroyed much of it. Most of the history we have is passed down orally from generation to generation. Every adversity brings its own challenges, however, what we are most proud of is our mission: to provide the highest standard of funeral service to all, regardless of financial circumstance.

 

Your funeral home is housed in a gorgeous building at 3827 Canal St. that dates to the 1870s. What is the history of that building?

We have great appreciation for being able to work in such a beautiful space. The property has had several owners, but the home that sits here today can be traced back to Lorenza and Francis Raoul Tanneret. It was sold to the Pitard Family in 1896 as the “Tanneret Cottage.” The Pitard family owned the home until 1906 although they left their mark: a custom-made, marble fireplace that depicts three of their children who they lost very young being ascended into heaven. The home was then purchased by Mary Ellen Rehm Virgin and her husband, Uriah J. Virgin, a florist known as “The Flower King.” In the home, another fireplace, adorned with flowers and vegetables, pays homage to their family business. They owned the mansion up until it was sold to National Undertakers in 1931 and from them to E.J. Ranson & Sons, Inc., who sold it to my family in 1936.

 

In these stressful times, what does historic preservation mean to you?

Historic preservation is about remembering who we were as a people, honoring our ancestors and what they accomplished and celebrating our past to learn from it to bring us to where we are today.

 

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