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Dec 17, 201810:05 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Harry Tompson At The Altar

The Man and His Mass

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No one said a Christmas Eve midnight mass like Harry Tompson did.

Tompson was a well-known Jesuit priest who in his last years served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church on Baronne Street (commonly known as Jesuit church). During his tenure there he had spiffed up the old church, lightening the interiors making it look more Renaissance-like and less dark ages. He also started a nearby center for the homeless that now bears his name.

For whatever endearing qualities the priest had he also developed a following because of his midnight mass. Having once been principal at Jesuit High School, the Algiers native engendered a built-in constituency so the church was always full each Christmas Eve as the clock’s hands converged at the top of the dial. What really set Tompson’s masses apart though was an amazing gift for timing. A Swiss watchmaker could have set time on Tompson’s mass lasting exactly an hour and not a minute more. There was still the full ritual package: caroling, processions, incense and practically everyone going to communion yet someone at the Immaculate Conception mass could have gone home after it was over, turned the TV on and seen the midnight mass at the St. Louis Cathedral still in progress.

So what miracle did Tompson perform to pack so much into so little time? It was the homily. When he spoke everyone listened. They could not avoid it. He bellowed so loudly that even those made sleepy by the hour or by spiked eggnog were jolted. Yet he spoke briefly as though there was an inner mechanism computing his allowable speaking time. Sometimes the homily seemed to end abruptly, yet everyone got the message as delivered in a bellicose style enriched with a touch of native dialect. (Tompson’s brevity, though admired, never came close to the daily masses performed by the late St. Pius X Church pastor Monsignor Arthur Screen, who, for good reason, was known as “twenty minute screen.”) 

​For whatever those in the congregation put in the collection basket they nevertheless got their money’s worth. By 1:30 Christmas morning everyone was gone and the church doors were locked. Appropriate to the moment, the 100 block of Baronne Street was experiencing a silent night. Harry Tompson had spoken.​

 

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BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.

WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.

 

 

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

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Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.

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