From New Orleans to Haiti, With Love

For many Episcopalians in the U.S., the devastating January earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince and other areas of Haiti wasn’t just a faraway disaster. Numerous churches and dioceses have Haitian parishioners and close relationships with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and its ministries. Countless congregations and individuals have responded to their sisters and brothers in need with an outpouring of compassion and financial support.

The tragedy has especially resonated with members of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana (EDOLA). In addition to New Orleans having strong cultural ties with Haiti, people also felt a connection because of their own ordeal during Hurricane Katrina. Following the hurricane, EDOLA’s Office of Disaster Response (now Episcopal Community Services) and Episcopal Relief & Development immediately provided critical aid. Episcopal Relief and Development also partnered with the Diocese in developing a long-term recovery program targeting marginalized people with services such as case management and psychosocial care, and with Christ Church Cathedral in launching the Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative to build affordable housing.

“In essence, we relate to Haiti in some small way as a community that faced such intense devastation and hopelessness, and yet somehow kept our faith,” said David duPlantier, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans. “What helped the most was the immediate outpouring of support from the faith communities and specifically some of the wonderful institutions of the Episcopal Church.”

Dean duPlantier said that watching the vivid images of Haiti on television brought to mind the idea of a benefit concert. “I thought of it because it reminded me of our Katrina experience, and I remembered how helpful it was that Episcopal Relief & Development was on the scene with financial and logistics support so quickly.”

He reached out to Irvin Mayfield, founder of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and artist in residence at Christ Church Cathedral since 2005. Irvin had spent time in Haiti studying the musical connections between that country and New Orleans and has a deep affection for its people. “With historical ties that bind us musically and culturally, New Orleans is a part of Haiti and Haiti is part of New Orleans,” Irvin said.

Despite a busy week, including playing “America the Beautiful” at the National Football Conference championship game, Irvin and Ronald Markham, President and CEO of the Orchestra, readily agreed to participate. Ronald would play the piano and Irvin the Elysian Trumpet—a handmade, gold-plated instrument dedicated to the memory of his father, Irvin Mayfield, Sr., and all who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The trumpet was blessed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in 2007 and the following year was named a national treasure by President George W. Bush.

In planning the January 22 concert, Dean duPlantier said, “We didn’t know what to expect since we only announced the concert on the Monday before it took place, and there were a number of other things going on in the city that evening, as well as the nationally broadcast Haiti benefit.” Time was of the essence, however, “since we wanted to do it as soon as possible, and Irvin would be at the Grammys the following weekend.” (Mayfield and the Orchestra went on to win a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for “Book One,” a work the Cathedral commissioned in 2008.)

Even with the short notice, the New Orleans to Haiti Relief Concert attracted close to 350 people that Friday evening. In true improvisational jazz style, the order of the pieces was finalized just before the concert began. “Irvin never decides what he is going to play until the last minute,” said Dean duPlantier.

The concert featured a range of spirituals and other pieces, including “Amazing Grace,” “What a Wonderful World” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” In one of the evening’s most poignant moments, Irvin performed a song he had written in honor of his father, which he dedicated “to all of those who have become victim to natural disasters.”

The event raised more than $13,000 to support Episcopal Relief & Development’s Haiti relief efforts. In addition to Irvin and Ronald’s generous gift of time and talent, many Cathedral volunteers helped make the event a success by spreading the word, taking donations and tallying the proceeds. Local radio station WGSO-AM provided advertising throughout the week and broadcast and webcast the concert live.

“The people of Haiti have sustained a great amount of suffering and pain, and being citizens of the world requires us to lend a helping hand to one another,” Irvin said. “You can’t put a price tag on advocacy—on the extension of that helping hand and the lifting up of people. This was a tremendous opportunity for we in New Orleans to be an example of that for the world. Katrina taught us that it’s important for us as a city–that we go to the next level to help others.”

The Very Reverend Morris Thompson, Bishop-Elect of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, said, “I am very pleased by the timely efforts of the Cathedral in organizing this event, and grateful to Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for their moving performance. Episcopal Relief & Development is one of the great ministries of the Episcopal Church and supporting their work in Haiti underscores the connection between all of God’s children.”

A recording of the New Orleans to Haiti Relief Concert is available on the Christ Church Cathedral website at

Christ Church Cathedral is just one example among hundreds of churches, schools, organizations and individuals who have reached out to Haiti with their prayers, donations, time and energy. Episcopal Relief & Development is extremely grateful to all who have enabled us to partner with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti in caring for those affected by the earthquake.  Please share your stories with us on Facebook (go to and click on Discussions). Alternately, you can send an email to

If you’d like to help those suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, you can donate online, call 1.800.334.7626 ext.5129 or mail a check to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.  Please write “Haiti Earthquake Response Fund” in the memo line of all checks.


Photos courtesy of Christ Church Cathedral