During the French Revolution 1789-1790, many priests, nuns, and religious brothers were persecuted. They often had to go into hiding in order to administer the Sacraments and keep their vocation. This is what happened with the Ursuline nuns of the Convent of Pont-Saint-Esprit. One of the nuns, Agathe Gensoul, couldn’t use her religious name any longer. Mother St. Michel, still lived her vocation, starting a school with another Ursuline, Sophie Ricard. Agathe had a cousin who was an Ursuline also, but who lived in America, in New Orleans, which had been under Spanish rule but was now under French rule. The Spanish Ursulines, in New Orleans, feared persecution by the French, so they went back to Spain. This left the convent in need of more nuns.
So Agathe or Mother St. Michel applied to her bishop for the transfer to New Orleans. The bishop refused her request because of troubles in France. He told her the Pope would have to approve her move. The pope couldn’t approve her move because he was under house arrest. The situation appeared impossible. Agathe, was not easily discouraged. She wrote a letter to Pope Pius VII, but after three months she didn’t have the ability to send it.
One day, while praying before a statue of Mary, she was inspired with this prayer: “O Most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain a prompt and favorable answer to my letter, I promise to have you honored in New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”
She not only found a way to send the letter a few days later, but the Pope replied within a month! He granted permission and gave his blessing for her new undertaking. This surprised the bishop who asked to bless the statue that Mother St. Michel had carved to take with her to New Orleans. The statue was enshrined in the Ursuline convent in New Orleans on December 30, 1810.
Two years later, in 1812, there was a terrible fire at the Vieux Carre. The wind was driving the fire toward the Ursuline convent. It was facing immediate danger. The nuns were told to evacuate. Sister St. Anthony, placed a small statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on a window seat and St Michel began to pray aloud. Immediately the wind that threatened to set their convent ablaze immediately switched direction and a couple of buildings, including theirs, were spared from the inferno. This was the first major historical miracle.
Three years later, America’s 6000 troops, under General Andrew Jackson were to face 15000 British soldiers. On the eve of the battle of New Orleans, the residents joined the sisters of the Ursuline convent to pray overnight with Our Lady of Prompt Succor. The Superior had made a vow to have a thanksgiving mass sung annually if the American forces win. During a mass, at the time of communion, a courier ran into the chapel to inform all present that the British had been defeated. Ever since then, on January 8, an annual thanksgiving mass has been sung.
Mary’s help has been sought from the shrine ever since, both in times of war, during the Battle of New Orleans, and during the threat of the frequent hurricanes.