The Last Leper’s Colony

Excuse me here for reminiscing.

But way, way, back in the wayback machine, we learned in grammar school all about Carville, and the Leper’s Colony on the Mississippi River, out in the middle of nowhere, where lepers were sent to live… and to die. Eventually a cure was found, and the name leprosy was renamed to Hansen’s Disease, and it’s no longer to be feared.

That’s about all we learned. It was.. way, way back and all that. The place was still open.

It was a fascinating and mysterious place to hear about, and always evoked mysterious images in our minds.  After all… Jesus cured lepers.  And they were sent… away.


Visiting the museum, tells a simply passionate story.

carville hilary

The Daughters of Charity were called upon to the found the place, and they didn’t want to. (Who could blame them, really?) The facilities were a ruined plantation and some slave quarters.

But the Provincial of the order visited and decided it was truly a worthy cause, and so it came to be.

The nuns, many of whom probably knew Margaret, yes Margaret, that Margaret, personally, they walked with her, and talked with her and were at her funeral….  were then called to start a leper’s colony in an old, ruined plantation house that was falling apart, and ridden with bats, rats, and no doubt … roaches.

How awful.

The above by the way is Sr. Hilary’s camera. Sr. Hilary Ross was the head of the center for decades, and instrumental in the research and cure of leprosy.

She was an accomplished photographer, which was just the spiritual boost I needed today.

carville microscope

This was a microscope she used.   She never even went to high school, and helped not only cure Hansen’s Disease, but also helped to promote and encourage hope amongst the hopeless.  The community at Carville developed into quite a thriving and creative group of people.

carville casket

That long basket back there… that’s what was used before bodybags.

One of my friends was telling me his sister loved gruesome things, the more gore the better. I told him she’d totally love this place. But really, it’s not gory at all, it’s just fascinating.

Very information driven, a lot packed into a small space.

Still, I found myself not wanting to touch anything. The stigma of leprosy…   There was a Holy Water Bottle that the nuns kept in their Chapel, and the typed label said:  “Please Touch! It’s just Holy Water.”

carville cemetery

There are two graveyards, only one on the self guided tour. God rest them, all.

If you ever have the opportunity, National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Or at least take A Virtual Tour of the National Hansen’s Disease Musem.

Fr. Kenneth Allen