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Connicks have legacy at Immaculate Conception

For the Connick family and others of Dutch descent whose ancestors migrated to Marrero in the 1920s on the invitation of Msgr. Peter Wynhoven, Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish and School hold a special meaning.

Due to the family’s longevity with Immaculate Conception, the Connicks were asked to host the school’s upcoming 90th anniversary celebration, “Charge Into the Centennial,” Feb. 28 at the Loews Hotel in New Orleans. They will introduce former teachers, principals and students.

“Our family has been a part of this parish for a long time,” said Carmel Connick Hebert, an Immaculate Conception teacher for more than 25 years whose grandfather, Thomas Jenniskens, was the first generation in her family to come to Marrero from Holland.

School opened in 1924
The first Immaculate Conception Church went up at 6th Street and Avenue B, said John “Sonny” Jenniskens, who recalled that the school was established in 1924. He graduated from eighth grade there in 1948.

Jenniskens was the baby of five children of Thomas and Louise Jenniskens to attend Immaculate Conception. His siblings were Peter, Thomas “Dutch,” Gertrude and Betty. Counting their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, more than 40 members of the Connick family are Immaculate Conception graduates.

The school was first staffed by the Most Holy Sacrament Sisters followed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame from 1939-79. The Salesians have since run the school, stated a parish history. Betty Jenniskens Connick taught there in the 1960s and ‘70s and later at Madonna Manor nearby.

“My mom said when it rained and flooded, the students got to go home,” said Hebert, daughter of Betty Jenniskens Connick. Connick’s other children attended, followed by 13 grandchildren. Several of Hebert’s grandchildren are graduates, and three more currently attend, with a fourth about to enter the toddler program.

The legacy of teachers from her family continues with her daughter, Michelle Hebert, serving as the school nurse; her husband, Scott Walker, as athletic director; and her niece, Tracee Brewer, as a teacher.

Connick school memories

Thomas Jenniskens came to Marrero from Venray, Holland, at age 21, sometime in the 1920s. Sonny Jenniskens remembered that Msgr. Wynhoven – then pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Gretna that encompassed the area on the West Bank all the way to Westwego – also was from Venray, Holland.

When Msgr. Wynhoven was establishing Catholic mission churches, including Immaculate Conception, he returned to Holland to bring craftsmen to Marrero. Along with Jenniskens, who had a degree from an agricultural college in Holland, were men from the Pouwels and Kessel families in Holland, who also were craftsmen, who came to start industries in Marrero, Sonny Jenniskens said.

“They were trying to make jobs for Dutch people here to work,” said Hebert, granddaughter to Thomas Jenniskens who ran a dairy farm, first in Lafitte and then moved to Barataria Boulevard on the site of the current Hope Haven/Madonna Manor complex to be closer to the ferry.

Thomas Jenniskens had a home on the site, and his sons learned book-binding with the orphan boys at Hope Haven. The family even went to Mass with the Hope Haven residents, Sonny Jenniskens said.

Archbishop Shaw officially established Immaculate Conception Parish on July 12, 1924. The area was mostly French until Msgr. Wynhoven brought in the Dutchmen, Hebert said. A history of the parish said the Marrero family donated land to Msgr. Wynhoven for Immaculate Conception Parish.

Father Joseph Wester, who served Immaculate Conception until 1939, was the first pastor. He had the spiritual care of the orphans at Hope Haven, which had just opened, the parish history added.

More recent history
The current, 800-seat church designed by the architectural firm of Curtis and Davis and built by Gervais F. Favrot, was dedicated on April 28, 1957.

Its then-pastor Msgr. Paul Gaudin, who served the parish from 1949-69, received a congratulatory letter from Archbishop Joseph Rummel that read, in part: “Modest indeed were the beginnings but as the congregation grew in numbers to a membership of over 6,000 souls, it kept constant pace with the construction of the buildings necessary to carry on its spiritual and educational mission. Wisely, emphasis was laid upon the development of a substantial program of education, which has been recently climaxed by the formation of a Catholic parochial high school. ... There are today 1,100 pupils in the parochial grade school and 64 students in the high school.”

Sonny Jenniskens remembered in the early days of the school riding his bike home for lunch and being the king of the school’s annual pageant, while his older brother “Dutch” was a page. He also recalled sliding down a staircase during fire drills at the original school building built in 1924. His mother, Louise Naquin Jenniskens, was known for baking coconut and banana cakes for school and parish functions.

Sonny Jenniskens also recalled the Dutch men getting together weekly to play cards and speak Dutch.

By the time Carmel Connick Hebert, a 1967 Immaculate Conception graduate, attended, she said Msgr. Gaudin coached her basketball and volleyball teams.

“He would sit on the bench with an unlit cigar,” she said. “I also remembered ‘penny parties’ and the older siblings staying home that day so the young children could attend. With eight kids, we didn’t have enough money for all to attend (the parties).”

She also remembered going to the Way of the Cross on Fridays and how a School Sister of Notre Dame encouraged her to read classic literature during class, leading to a career as an English teacher at Immaculate Conception, where she is teaching children of children she taught.

“When you said Immaculate Conception, it was always the church and the school,” Carmel Hebert said.

She’s heard that many families associated with the parish – some still living in the neighborhood – are attending the anniversary.

“It’s family,” Hebert said about Immaculate Conception School and Parish. “We call it a home away from home. It’s a place where you feel a part of.”

For more information on the anniversary, call the school at 347-4409.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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