Three years after they launched a desperate

effort to save their Catholic parish from closure, members of

historic St. Augustine Parish in Treme have the official word: They

are off probation and back on solid ground.

Worshippers interrupted the Rev. Quentin Moody's announcement at

the end of a recent Sunday Mass, shouting and applauding.

Among them were lay leaders who three years ago dug in their

heels and resisted Archbishop Alfred Hughes' decision to close the

wounded 168-year-old parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The resistance morphed into a 20-day occupation of the St.

Augustine rectory by young hurricane relief workers sympathetic to

parishioners' pleas.

Hughes relented after a bitter public standoff. He told

parishioners they had 18 months to stabilize the parish and meet

certain ministry, finance and education benchmarks indicating

parish vitality.

The old congregation in one of New Orleans' most historic

neighborhoods is a cultural jewel. In its earliest days, white

merchants, free black artisans and slaves worshipped there