A block party celebrating the life and legacy of the late Rev. Harry Tompson, Gambit's 2001 New Orleanian of the Year, will be held on Sunday, April 3, in the 200 block of Baronne Street. Dubbed "Harry Fest," the celebration marks the 10th anniversary of Tompson's death at the age of 64 — and kicks off the 160th anniversary of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, known to generations as "the Jesuit Church," which Tompson pastored in the final years of his life.
Tompson is remembered for many reasons — among them his service as president of Jesuit High School and as director of the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Convent, La. — but his lasting legacy is the four missions he launched from the downtown parish he revitalized before his death.
Tompson parlayed his many friendships among the city's elite to begin renovating his church and to launch initiatives connecting his friends and the church to underserved youth and homeless people in Central City. Among his ongoing success stories are Cafe Reconcile, the Good Shepherd Nativity Mission School, Boys Hope Girls Hope and the Harry Tompson Center for the homeless.
"Father Harry started a renovation at the church, and we are trying to finish the job — especially the stained glass," says Immaculate Conception parishioner Cathy Espenan. "We're also amazed at how successful all of his outreach programs are. Each one is changing lives, every day. One man, even 10 years after his death, has made a difference in the lives of many people."
The church's current pastor, Rev. Stephen Sauer, noted the "significant advances in racial harmony that we have experienced" as a result of Tompson's work. "Harry took a mostly white, non-urban flock — which had gathered more for love of him than anything else — and he committed them to the work of outreach and reconciliation."
Harry Fest will begin at 11 a.m. with Mass at the church, followed by a street party featuring music by Michael "Soulman" Baptiste, The Good Shepherd School Choir, New Orleans Mystics Motown Review and Bag of Donuts. The festival also will feature food, family fun, arts, crafts, and more. — Clancy DuBos
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
200 block Baronne Street, 529-1477; www.jesuitchurch.net