Rummel Raiders’ Yearbook of Faith
At face value, the black-and-white yearbook photographs are typical, even unremarkable.
Seen one, seen them all.
But the senior portraits of 21 graduates of Archbishop Rummel High School tell a remarkable vocation story. Since 1966, 21 teenagers have gone on from Rummel to become priests, permanent deacons, religious brothers or seminarians studying for the priesthood.
Two recent graduates – Fathers Kyle Sanders (2003) and Kurt Young (2005) – were ordained earlier this year as priests of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Deacon Travis Clark (2001) was ordained in May as a transitional deacon, the final step before ordination to the priesthood next year.
Two other Rummel graduates – Tim Hedrick (2000) and Charles Dussouy (2002) – are seminarians in formation for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary.
Also notable are the DeLerno brothers – Chris (1986) and Kevin (1992) – who are now serving as priests. Father Chris DeLerno is a parochial vicar at St. Edward the Confessor Church Metairie, and his younger brother, Father Kevin DeLerno, is nearby at St. Christopher Church.
“This is a real tribute to the Catholic identity and the Christian formation program that Rummel has had,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said. “We are grateful that homegrown vocations are among us.”
All this has Father Scott Dugas (1968), a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese who now serves as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksdale, Miss., reflecting on the impact that the Christian Brothers have had through the years on so many Archbishop Rummel students.
It was Christian Brother John Fairfax, the longtime Archbishop Rummel principal, and Msgr. Donald Byrnes who gave a talented football player the example of what it might be like to give his life to Christ in a radical way.
“The brothers were just fantastic,” said Father Dugas, who played linebacker for one year at the University of Utah and finished his collegiate career at the college of Santa Fe in New Mexico. “Brother John Fairfax was such a great inspiration to us because of his witness in getting around and being at every school function despite his polio. We loved him to death and still do. John Fairfax, to me, is without a doubt one of the best influences for vocations that I ever met in my life. He epitomized the spirit of ‘Rufus Raider.’”
Msgr. Byrnes was an associate pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in the mid-’60s when Father Dugas, who grew up in a Catholic and Baptist home, met the athletic priest on the school playground.
“He rolled up his cassock and played cabbage ball with us,” Father Dugas recalled. “He hit a home run on the top of the convent roof. He told us, ‘Don’t tell the nuns it was me!’ To this day, that ball might be up there. He himself was a convert from Judaism and Methodism – and look what he did for me. He had water left over from his baptism and he poured it on me.
“These men – Brother John Fairfax and Father Byrnes – I wouldn’t be here as a priest for 35 years if it wasn’t for them helping me get through the narrow gate.”
Brothers’ personal dedication
Msgr. Frank Giroir (1973), pastor of St. Anselm Parish in Madisonville, said the Christian Brothers exhibited a dedication to students and a prayer life that personally inspired him.
“Brother Anthony (Clement), who was my religion teacher and homeroom teacher my senior year, wrote me a letter once a month for eight years to encourage me and say he was praying for me,” Msgr. Giroir said. “I was just touched by their dedication to the boys at Rummel.”
Father David Dufour (1982), pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, said his studies at Rummel, particularly his extracurricular work with the band, nurtured his leadership ability. He also fondly recalled the religion class of Gayle Camet, who went on to become the head of the religion department after he graduated.
“She did a lot of good, along with the subsequent principals, of shaping the religious curriculum as well as the focus of the school in making a real Catholic environment,” Father Dufour said. “That has an impact. I was able to see that as a pastor from the students who were at Rummel. They were very knowledgable about their faith and very committed.”
In the 1990s, Jesuit Father W. Wayne Roca served as chaplain and political science teacher at Rummel, and he played a pivotal role in many students’ faith lives, said Father Beau Charbonnet, who was a Rummel religion teacher from 1994-99.
When Father Roca was diagnosed with cancer, he attended a prayer service with Sister Briege McKenna, who prayed over him and told him, “Out of your suffering will come 100 vocations.”
“After she said this, he wept,” Father Charbonnet said.
A Jesuit ‘turned’ Raider
As a Jesuit priest, Father Roca might have been expected to have divided loyalties when Rummel played Jesuit in football, but he always walked the Rummel sidelines. After Rummel defeated Jesuit for the first time since Father Roca became chaplain, the Raider football team carried him onto the field on their shoulders.
“When Archbishop (Francis) Schulte said Father Roca’s funeral Mass at the Rummel gym (in 1999), he said, ‘It was football players who carried him onto the field, and today football players will carry him out of the gym,’” Father Charbonnet said. “They were his pallbearers.”
After Father Roca’s death, Father Pat Wattigny, pastor of St. Benilde Church in Metairie, became chaplain. He celebrates Mass at the school four days a week and makes himself available to students for confession and the occasional private talk.
“The students loved Father Roca for making Rummel his family,” Father Wattigny said. “He called them to holiness. I try to meet as many students as possible through the daily Masses and the retreat program. The other thing is I’m not afraid to ask anybody if they’ve thought about becoming a priest. I don’t mind being told no. But if you don’t ask, they can’t even tell you. I plant and water the seeds. Some vocations don’t come until later. In my 13 years there, we’ve had one student go directly to the seminary – and that was Father Kyle Sanders. The others went after graduating from college.”
School fostered environment
Father Sanders, parochial vicar at St. Rita Parish in Harahan, said Rummel had a profound impact on his life.
“Rummel was able to build a culture and an environment to foster masculine, Christian living,” Father Sanders said. “They really supported and fostered community prayer. We actually had a class where we learned basically how to run a retreat. It was like peer ministry.”
Father Kurt Young – who was ordained with Father Sanders this year – said Rummel developed an atmosphere among the students that was “conducive to prayer.”
“Even though Father Pat (Wattigny) was not a full-time chaplain, he spent a lot of time on campus,” Father Young said. “Having his presence – this prayerful, holy priest – on campus was a good example for me.”
Michael Rosolino (1992), the cross country and track coach at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., is studying for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Orlando. He credited Mary Ann Robarts with helping him develop as a leader and “expressing myself in public.”
Christian Brother Timothy Coldwell (1974), provincial of the New Orleans-Santa Fe Province, said he first noticed a tug toward religious life after hearing the brothers’ vocation director give a talk in his junior year.
“He invited anyone who wanted to have a conversation to do so, and that was pivotal for me,” Brother Timothy said. “I’ll never know what may have happened had that brother not made that invitation.”
In those days, there were about 15 to 20 Christian Brothers on the Rummel faculty and staff, he said.
“They all impacted me positively,” Brother Timothy said. “It’s pretty safe to say that if I had not gone to Rummel, I would not have known the Christian Brothers enough to go in that direction and fulfill my vocational desire with them.”