The Archbishop’s Palace was original the Ursuline Convent
Illustration of “The Archbishop’s Palace,” by J. Wells Champney, in The Great South: A Record of Journeys… by Edward King. The illustration shows what New Orleanians have come to call, “The Old Ursuline Convent.” The Ursulines used the buildings as their residence from 1753 to 1824. In 1825, the Order moved down to the Ninth Ward. They built a new convent on the river, where the Industrial Canal now stands.
So, from 1825 until 1899, the convent buildings served as the residence of the Archbishop of New Orleans. While the archbishops moved to other residences, the archdiocese retained the Old Ursuline Convent. The buildings suffered a great deal of damage from neglect. The Archdiocese embarked upon a major renovation/restoration program in the 1970s, and later opened the buildings as a museum.
The second convent
The city built this complex as a replacement for the first Ursuline convent. To be precise, the nuns originally resided in Bienville’s home, prior to the construction of the first convent. By 1745, the wood-frame convent decayed. The building required replacement. The nuns moved into the second convent in 1753. The building survived the devastating fires of 1788 and 1794. The Ursulines required more space by 1824. So, they signed over the convent to the archdiocese and moved downriver.
The third convent
Champney also illustrated the third convent complex for King’s book. King contends that the nuns moved down to the Ninth Ward because of a lucrative real estate market. That’s not what happened, though. The Ursuline girls’ school, now Ursuline Academy, needed more space. The nuns, with financial support from both church and city, built the third convent. They signed over the second complex to the archbishop. Bishop Antoine Blanc was the first to reside at the convent. Blanc later became the first Archbishop, when the Diocese of New Orleans was restructured as an archdiocese.
The Ursulines moved from the Ninth Ward to State Street, Uptown, in 1912. It was clear by then that the site of the third convent was where the state wanted to build the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (the Industrial Canal). The nuns sold out, and the state began the canal project in 1914.