Heart of Louisiana: Margaret of New Orleans

In New Orleans, there are statues to well-known heroes – most are from other places, and they made their marks on battlefields. But the "Margaret of New Orleans" monument is different – it honors an Irish immigrant woman who became the hero of the poor and the orphaned children of New Orleans.

Traci Birch of the Monumental Task Committee says, "Ultimately [she] became a fairly wealthy woman and built orphanages in the city of New Orleans to take care of orphaned children and the poor."

The buildings that Margaret Haughery helped to finance, such as the old St. Vincent Infant Asylum and St. Elizabeth's Orphanage, still stand in New Orleans today.  When she died in 1882, Margaret was given a state funeral.  And two years later, with the proceeds of a nickel-and-dime fundraising effort, the citizens of New Orleans built her statue.

Birch says,  "This was really a testament to Margaret's work, the work Margaret did in the city of New Orleans and how well she was respected for the work she did for the poor and children of the city."

This statue was built at a time when monuments honored men, not women.  In fact, this is the first statue in the United States honoring a woman philanthropist.

It was chiseled from beautiful, Italian Carrara marble and built by the same artist who created the statue in Lee Circle.  But nearly 130 years of weather, traffic exhaust and expressway construction have taken their toll.

The Monumental Task Committee has made it a priority to stabilize and restore Margaret's statue.

Birch says, "You can see this concrete lip has broken away. You have some wearing of the brick inside."

Some of the marble features have crumbled – a missing nose, for example, and a broken finger on both Margaret and the orphan child.

Birch says, "It does have a crack that runs through the monument as well. We don't know how deep it is."

The once-smooth white marble now has a rough, sandy, dull surface.  Birch says,  "A lot of this is from acid rain and from the interstate, so the blackening of the marble is something that's going to have to be regularly cleaned."

Birch and her organization hope to raise enough money to repair the statue, clean up the surrounding park, and provide for the perpetual care of Margaret.  And when you hear Margaret's story, you will realize why it's so important.

Even in the small town of Tully at Carrigallen in Ireland, a place Margaret left when she was five years old, Margaret's story is being told today.  Volunteers reconstructed the birthplace of Margaret of New Orleans.  The county youth theatre performed an original play that tells Margaret's life story.

You see, Margaret herself was orphaned - her parents died shortly after they arrived in America.  When she grew up, Margaret married, moved to New Orleans and had a baby daughter.  Both husband and child died – leaving Margaret alone again.  But Margaret's life changed when she began helping the Sisters of Charity take care of the city's orphans, beginning one of the most incredible stories of success and giving in the history of New Orleans.

Philanthropist Roger Ogden says, "When we talk about one life, one person can make an enormous difference in this world. Well, this was one person who did that and did that in spades."

You can see Margaret's story as we travel from New Orleans to her native Ireland in a FOX 8 special report, "Margaret, Heart of a Saint," on St. Patrick's Day, March 16, Sunday night at 9:30.  If you don't already know Margaret's amazing story, you will see that of all the monuments in the city, the people of New Orleans should take care of Margaret.

The Monumental Task Committee has a goal of $100,000 to fully restore the Margaret statue and surrounding park.  The group is hosting a fundraising this Sunday evening, with live Irish music at the Deutches Haus.

This year is also the bicentennial of Margaret's birth – and her hometown in Ireland is hosting commemorative events this summer.  For more information, go online to TheGatheringIreland.com.