One full-time staff member. One full-time volunteer. The Parish Center at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. These were all part of the humble beginnings of Father Harry Tompson’s mission to serve the needs of the poor and homeless by providing them with a place to shower, wash clothes, and rest in a comfortable environment.
With the help and dedication of parishioners and friends, Father Harry Tompson, S.J., opened the Pastoral Center next door to the Immaculate Conception rectory on Baronne Street in downtown New Orleans in 1999. The initial role of the Center was to fill the pastoral needs of the Parish, but the Center soon began to attract homeless persons who had nowhere else to go during the day. Thus began the Immaculate Conception Church’s ministry to the homeless.
In order to meet the needs of those who dropped in, the Center began to provide shower facilities, laundry service, toiletries and a place to rest for approximately 30 homeless persons. As the love spread, so did the word of mouth. Before long, an average of 175 men and women were receiving even more services on a daily basis. The full-time staff during this time also grew to a total of five to keep up with the demand, which was growing larger each day.
Under the leadership of Father Tom Stahel, the late pastor of Jesuit Church (2004-2005), the parish center was established as a registered non-profit organization and began operating under a new name, The Harry Tompson Center, in honor of Father Harry who died in 2001. By the time Hurricane Katrina struck, the Center was seeing up to 275 people a day.
The building which housed the Harry Tompson Center incurred severe damage as a result of the flooding from Hurricane Katrina. The Jesuits of the New Orleans Province allocated funding and staffing to re-establish its ministry in a new location. They teamed up with St. Joseph’s Church and the Lantern Light Ministry to build and establish a new day center for the homeless in 2007. The Rebuild Center is located at 1803 Gravier Street, directly behind St. Joseph’s Church. Architects from Detroit Mercy College were recruited to design a beautiful, nurturing, serene outdoor environment which has resulted in numerous design awards.
The Harry Tompson Center treasures its partnership with St. Joseph’s Church and the other non-profits sharing space at the Rebuild Center: the Lantern Light Ministry staffed by the Presentation Sisters who facilitate the daily meal, mail service, TB testing, prescription assistance, identification assistance, social work assistance, a food bank and home ownership services and DePaul USA which provides a housing program and transportation services to Rebuild Center guests. Together, we provide a continuum of services to meet all most needs of our homeless guests.
The Center flourishes to this day because of the dedication and commitment of the staff and volunteers; the guidance of our Board of Directors; the support of the Jesuit community and individual donors; continued funding support from UNITY and the City of New Orleans; and the ongoing support of Immaculate Conception Parish.