Three African-American schools reunite at Mass

A standing room crowd of approximately 1,200 students and faculty attended an Oct. 19  Mass to laud the partnership between St. Mary’s Academy, St. Augustine High School and Xavier University Preparatory High School after Hurricane Katrina to educate displaced students.

“Welcome to this historic day as we come together as MAX,” Archbishop Aymond said as he celebrated a Mass at St. Joseph Church in New Orleans championing “Three Institutions, One Voice.”

Archbishop Aymond then did a roll call of who was there.

“St. Mary’s can we hear from you? The student body rose and cheered.

Can I hear from you St. Aug? The boys stood and hollered.

“Is anybody here from Xavier Prep? One side of St. Joseph erupted in assent.

He encouraged the young adult church gathered to emulate Jesus and be men and women of integrity.
“We are called to be like Jesus,” Archbishop Aymond said. “We are called to talk the talk and walk the walk.”

He told them to make bold and courageous choices – to stand up against bullying, stay off inappropriate Internet sites and be honest, even though it may not always be the easiest choice.

“Jesus tells us to listen to not only what he calls us to do in life but to live it,” he said. “In the heart of God, for each and every one of you, God has a dream for you ... God knows you. God loves you. ... God has a dream for each and every one of us. God wants us today to figure out that dream and live that dream. ... His dream is that you become the best person you can become.”

MAX united students 

For an entire semester – January-May 2006 – students from all three schools shared more than classrooms, hallways and activities as the MAX School at the least damaged campus of Xavier Prep Uptown. They shared experiences and formed friendships. A yearbook was even published with the combined classes of 2006.

“We know that no one would have ever imagined that St. Mary’s, St. Aug.  and Xavier Prep would actually come together and work as one,” Father Tony Ricard, the new head of campus ministry at St. Augustine High School, said. “But we know that Katrina was a great equalizer. That one thing could bring a lot of people together... The MAX school brought us together and we’ve remained together ever since.”

The three historically African-American schools plan to further tighten their union, knowing there is strength in unity.

“It’s been a vision we’ve had for many years post-Katrina,” Joseph Peychaud Jr., president of Xavier Preparatory, said about collaboration. Prior to Katrina, a fun run was held. Since Katrina, the schools have united for a pep rally after St. Mary’s opened its new campus and now the Mass. Peychaud hopes to further bond by sharing resources so each of the three schools can benefit from their association while maintaining their individual identity.

St. Augustine’s president, Dr. Karen Collins, said it makes sense for the three schools to share resources, considering they share the same community, with many African-American parents sending their children to one or more of the schools.  She hopes to see the creation of a curriculum consortium whereby the schools can share advanced placement course curricula and also work together on community projects.

Mass honored history

The founders of each school – Josephite Father Matthew J. O’Rourke, founding principal and president of St. Augustine; Venerable Henriette Delille, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family and St. Mary’s Academy; and Sisters of the Holy Family and St. Mary’s Academy; and Sister Katharine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and Xavier University Preparatory School – were honored at Mass as each school’s president carried their picture down the aisle. Also acknowledged by Father Ricard was Blessed Sacrament Sister Eileen Sullivan, who he said was a true voice behind the MAX merger.

Students enjoyed the Mass and welcome more of collaboration between the three schools.

“I think it’s good,” senior Nadja Lanaux, Xavier Prep student council president, said. “It’s a way to be more diverse and get to know other people’s outlook on their faith.”

“I think it’s a great way to come back and look at all the great things that Xavier Prep, St. Mary’s and St. Aug have done together or separately and how we can all come together as one and have things in common,” Xavier Prep senior class president Ashley Sutton said.

The Mass is just a further display of the unity of the three schools, a celebration of black Catholic history and heritage, Father Ricard said.

“This was something we needed to do to show our community how powerful this union is,” Father Ricard said.

“It truly was a MAX celebration to the max,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I hope this is the beginning of other celebrations for the schools.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.