The St. Joseph Altar in Alumnae Hall celebrated the cultural treasure of Saint Joseph Altars that have been part of the New Orleans fabric for generations. St. Joseph was declared Holy Patriarch Joseph, patron of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX in 1870. March 19 was declared his feast day.
Deacon Colm Cahill of the Archdiocese of New Orleans blessed the altar, a beautiful display of deep faith and culinary artistry. The altar represented many hours of students baking 700 fig cookies, under the guidance of alumnae who baked 800 biscotti. Cakes and breads were in forms of Christian symbols – the Pascal Lamb, a Bible, crosses, and a crown. Other bread shapes of fish, alligator and crawfish gave a nod to local bounty.
Wine bottles symbolized the miracle of Cana. Pignolatti – fried pastry balls joined together to make a pine cone shape, represented the pine cones that Jesus played with as a child. The display also featured the intricate and symbolic Cuccidate (fig cake). Visitors were given small keepsake bags of cookies, a prayer card and fava bean. The fava bean is a reminder to pray to St. Joseph for the needs of others.
The tradition of building an altar to honor the father of Jesus, began in Sicily. In the Middle Ages, the people prayed to the island nation’s saint to provide for them during famine. During the 1800s wave of Sicilian immigration to Louisiana, this tradition was introduced.
Two years ago, Dominican alumna Karen LaCour Puente ’78 and daughter Madeline, who is a senior, helped lead Dominican’s St. Joseph Altar. “When I learned from Madeline that the school did not have a St. Joseph Altar, she immediately said yes, she wanted to help,” Karen said. “It is such an honor and privilege to be part of Dominican’s St. Joseph Altar, and a joy to do this with my daughter.” Madeline found learning how to construct a St. Joseph’s Altar with her mom much fun. She added, “The altar is full of symbolism. It is a beautiful New Orleans, Catholic tradition, and we both felt strongly about bringing the tradition to Dominican and having students learn and be a part of this experience.”
Dominican donated the food from the altar to residents of the Pine Street Apartments.