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Aid Workers Rally to Side of a New Orleans Parish

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Times Staff Writer

A nonviolent sit-in at historic St. Augustine Church entered its third day Wednesday, with relief workers from across the country occupying the church rectory and demanding that the Archdiocese of New Orleans reopen the parish and reinstate the church’s longtime priest.

Parishioners, meanwhile, continued their 24-hour vigil outside the church.

The workers “are doing something that a lot of us aren’t able to” because of jobs or houses being rebuilt, said Carol Kolinchak, a parishioner and attorney representing the parish.

The archdiocese announced last month, as part of its post-Katrina restructuring, that it would merge the parish with another, though the church would remain open for Sunday Mass. The archdiocese cited declining membership and its decades-long subsidy of St. Augustine.

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The church’s priest, Father Jerome LeDoux, was ordered to leave the parish last weekend. On Monday, shortly after he left, a group of student relief workers took over St. Augustine’s rectory.

Speaking from a window of the rectory Wednesday, Caleb Nolen said he had dropped out of college in Maryland in January to come to New Orleans to help, and was sitting in “in solidarity with the parishioners.”

Father William Maestri, spokesman for the archdiocese, called the sit-in an “unfortunate, unauthorized occupation,” but said the archdiocese did not plan to ask police to oust the workers.

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