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$11 million complex positions Sacred Heart for future

    The 124-year-old traditions of the Academy of the Sacred Heart were showcased Oct. 20 with the dedication of a new, 37,000-square-foot arts and athletic complex on the feast of Mater Admirabilis (Mother Most Admirable).
    Archbishop Gregory Aymond was on hand to celebrate the feast day Mass and to bless the new building.

    He enlightened those in attendance with how the painting of Mother Most Admirable – hanging over the altar – became special to Sacred Heart institutions by explaining that a novice nun in Italy named Pauline painted Mary in a pink dress with a white stole. Unlike most depictions of Mary dressed in blue, the painting was not admired by her superiors and was shrouded and put aside.
    Then in 1844, Pope Gregory XVI was visiting the nuns, removed the sheet covering the painting and declared, “Mother Most Admirable.”
    “That’s the story and, now in every school administered by Sacred Heart, there is a picture of Mary dressed in pink with a white veil,” Archbishop Aymond said.
Total trust in God
    In his homily, Archbishop Aymond suggested a comparison with Pauline, who painted Mary differently and waited and trusted, and Mary, the mother of God, who also trusted during various times in her life. He first referred to the Gospel reading where the Angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the mother of God. She was “totally confused” but trusted God, just as she trusted Joseph when they found a place to have baby Jesus, when they found Jesus in the temple after the festival and when she was filled with sorrow after Jesus’ crucifixion.
    “Mary was an admirable lady who always trusted,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Mary teaches us that no matter what happens in life, we are to trust that God is always with us. In good times and challenging times, who is with us? God. God is with us and never leaves us or gives up on us. Mary shows us to trust when there are many things we don’t understand. I encourage you to honor Mary and trust her, to pray to her to show you how. Happy Feast Day!”   
    After Mass, everyone headed outdoors for a blessing of the $11 million structure and for festivities that included pink cupcakes, refreshments and students dancing in the street. Tours of the facilities also were available.
What addition means
    The new complex, designed by Waggoner and Ball Architects and built by F.H. Myers Construction, includes a 13,000-square-foot gym with an elevated running track, weight training and fitness center and student rehabilitation room.
    It is connected to a repurposed St. Joseph Hall that has become the Favrot Arts Center, housing a dance studio with mirrors, a multi-media center for graphic design and digital photography, an art studio and a music wing.
    The new complex has been in use since school began in August and is connected to the main campus across Carondelet Street by a new skywalk.
    This addition completes a master plan for the school that began in 1995 when Religious of the Sacred Heart Sister Shirley Miller was headmistress from 1989-2003. Sister Miller said she and the board were looking to create more educational space for students in the early 1990s because enrollment was growing, but they were land-locked. A few projects they could do to call attention to the school’s purpose for the love and heart of Jesus was to illuminate its cupola and statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus facing St. Charles Avenue.    
    Then came the renovation and updating of its library followed by the new math and science wing in 1997.
    As fortune would have it, First Baptist Church property on St. Charles and Napoleon avenues a block away from the school became available in 2003. The Academy of the Sacred Heart bought it, and in 2005, the new preschool and lower school campus opened there, doubling the size of the school, creating the Mater campus with classrooms for toddlers through fourth grade and the Nims Fine Arts Center where assemblies and Masses are held.
    The planning for the arts and athletics complex was tackled in 2009. After it was discovered that bricks from St. Michael’s in Convent, La. – one of the first Sacred Heart schools in the nation – were used in its construction, a decision was made to save St. Joseph Hall. The hall, former home to first through fourth grades and built in 1951, had originally been slated for demolition. The option to renovate the building saved the school money on the expansion and kept Sacred Heart history alive.
    Sister Shirley, who has since moved from New Orleans, is amazed by the growth of the school, but proud to say every milestone was celebrated on the Mater feast – Oct. 20.
    “It’s an amazing grace,” she said of the newest expansion. “It’s way beyond anything we had dreamed of in the mid-90s. ... It’s very exciting to see the students there and what they are able to do to create a strong future for them.”
Commitment to future
    On the cornerstone of the new gym building is inscribed, “A love of learning, a commitment to wellness and an appreciation for the beautiful,” words that echo the spirit of the Academy of the Sacred Heart. It also has the dedication date – Oct. 20, 2011. Manthey said a stainless steel time capsule filled with a multitude of items presented at the feast day Mass will be placed inside the wall behind the cornerstone and opened in 50 years.
    Archbishop Aymond asked everyone if they liked the new building before he sprinkled it with holy water. The crowd responded with rousing applause.
    He asked God to bless the buildings because “they are the work of human hands and have been built by faith. May all that is done in these buildings give praise to you and help these young women grow to praise you.”
    Since the buildings opened at the beginning of this school year, students have enjoyed using the space to practice cheerleading moves in front of a mirror and for many other purposes.
    “I think this new gym will bring us closer as a community and make it easier to have spirit for our school,” said ninth grader Elle Lovick. “We were all excited, and when it finally opened, we thought it was great.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .