Even though students across the United States are sleeping in today, the typical way teens celebrate national holidays like Presidents Day, many school kids across metro New Orleans have the back-to-school blues. It’s their first day back after Mardi Gras. Public and parochial schools alike in the area have school on several federal holidays, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Presidents Day, so we can take off on Lundi Gras, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday. That’s just one of the things that makes going to high school in New Orleans unique.
The Brothers of the Sacred Heart officially mark their involvement in New Orleans as beginning in 1869, but their influence in the city actually extends to before the Civil War. The Institute (the Brothers are known as an “institute” rather than an “order”) founded St. Stanislaus College, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in 1847. In addition to servicing the Mississippi Gulf Coast, many boys from New Orleans attended the school. When the Civil War broke out, the Brothers didn’t want the boys from the city traveling back and forth to the coast, so they established a presence in a house in Faubourg Marigny. After the war, the Institute peitioned the archbishop to start a full school in the city. The archbishop gave the Brothers a house on the corner of Barracks and Chartres in the French Quarter, just down the street from the Old Ursuline Convent and the Beauregard-Keyes House. Six brothers moved into the upstairs of what used to be the Spanish officers’ quarters in the colonial period. They converted the house into a school, opening St. Aloysius College in 1869.
The school was initially popular with the families living in the Quarter and the Marigny, but when Italian immigrants began arriving in New Orleans in large numbers in the 1880s, St. Aloysius outgrew their site. About the same time, the Ursuline Sisters made the decision to shift their ministry to Uptown New Orleans. They sold their school building on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and North Rampart Street to the Brothers, and St. Aloysius left the Quarter, taking over that street corner in Treme for most of the 20th Century.
The school survived the hurricane of 1915 with minimal damage, but St. Aloysius’ enrollment continued to grow, crowding the new facility. In the 1920s, the city’s need to widen N. Rampart Street to accommodate more streetcar traffic worked in the Brothers’ favor. The city used its power of eminent domain to acquire an additional foot of right-of-way for the street. That extra foot of space meant the school had to be demolished, and a new building built. The demo and new construction took place in 1924-1925, and the new St. Aloysius opened for the fall semester in 1925. The school continued to service the downtown neighborhoods until it closed in 1969. With the neighborhood population dwindling, the consequences of suburban migration, the Brothers made the decision to fall back on their school in Gentilly, Cor Jesu High School. St. Aloysius and Cor Jesu both closed at the end of the 1968-1969 school year. A combined school, named Brother Martin High School, opened that fall, graduating its first class in 1970. The new school takes its name from Brother Martin Hernandez, S.C. Brother Martin was a teacher and later principal at St. Aloysius. He took over management of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart for most of the United States in the 1940s-1950s, building new schools in several cities, including Cor Jesu in New Orleans.
When the decision was made to close St. Aloysius in the late 1960s, Brother Martin Hernandez was one of the leaders of the community who made the transition work. Telling the alumni of two high schools that their schools were merging into a new entity was no easy task, particularly when one of those schools just celebrated its centenary. Brother Martin’s influence, combined with his managerial skills made it happen. The plan was to have the new school assume the mascot of St. Aloysius (Crusaders), and the colors of Cor Jesu (crimson and gold). After the faculties of both schools were totally deadlocked on what to do about a name, a consensus formed for naming the school after Brother Martin. Forty-three years later, Brother Martin High School is one of the top schools in the community.
St. Aloysius, Cor Jesu, and Brother Martin have produced a number of notable graduates, including Tom Benson (Aloysius Class of ’44), owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Hornets. Other graduates include Mr. Ken Leithmann, former State Representative from Gretna, auto dealer Ray Brandt, local Math/Computer Education legend (and local/LSU sports expert) Brother Neal Golden, SC (Cor Jesu Class of ’57), Chef Scot Craig of Katie’s Restaurant in Mid City (Class of ’80), Mark Romig, President of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (Class of ’73). Among the schools’ less-notable graduates is your humble author (BMHS Class of ’76).
Brother Martin High and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart are but one component of the mosaic of schools in New Orleans. We’ll continue to explore other schools throughout the year.
Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, and Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. His latest book, Legendary Locals of New Orleans, is available at bookstores and online. He is owner of Yatmedia LLC (Social Media for Social Justice), and is @Yatpundit on Twitter.
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