Sense of community permeates St. Philip Neri

“Where faith and knowledge meet” is the slogan at St. Philip Neri School, a Catholic school in Metairie celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Dr. Carol Stack, who has been associated with the school as an administrator for 26 years – the past nine as principal – said St. Philip has much to offer parents of children age 3 through seventh grade.

“I think our greatest strength is our sense of community,” Stack said. “We’ve been told by so many people that there is a sense of family at St. Philip.”

That sense of community was present in September when more than 300 alumni,  former and current teachers and principals gathered for the school’s 50th anniversary party.

“It was nice to see some of the old teachers and visit with them,” said Charlotte Heap Shelley, 41, a 1984 graduate of St. Philip and current sixth-grade teacher whose son, Sean, now 16, also was a graduate. “Being involved with the church and school since 1978 as a student, a parent, and a teacher, SPN has given me a wonderful foundation in my Catholic faith. It has given me a love for my faith. I have been blessed being surrounded by people who cherish Christian values.”

School ties that last

The bond remains strong among students after graduation. Shelley said her graduating class, like several others, has individual reunions. Because of the interest, St. Philip is exploring an annual homecoming weekend.

“We have so many families whose parents were alums,” Stack said.

Stack praised her faculty for going “above and beyond” what is expected and keeping up with academic and technological trends.

“They are teachers, mentors and counselors to each other and to parents,” she said.

Academics is strong at St. Philip, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-accredited school offers ability groups for students “so every child gets what he needs,” whether he or she is among the fastest learners or someone who requires more time to complete tasks. Title I funding is offered for one-on-one sessions 90 minutes a week.

“Parents really like this,” Stack said. “They feel like we are giving them what they need.”

Spanish is taught weekly to all students, even the 3-year-olds, and there are interactive computer boards in the classroom and a separate computer lab. SPN also has a fulltime counselor, Katherine Chepolis.

“We wanted a counselor on staff,” Stack said. “In this day and age, children come from broken homes and difficult situations that really take a toll. Sometimes, they need a little help.”

Chepolis conducts classes on self-esteem, time management, organizational skills, peer pressure, bullying and drugs – “all the things kids have to deal with, so kids have support and someone they feel comfortable talking with.”

Extracurriculars abound at St. Philip, thanks to athletic director and physical education teacher Leslie Terminie. Among the choices are Beta Club, student council, robotics, music, band, choir, drama, Metro league baseball, soccer and cross-country and recently added art and a dance team. The school will sponsor a bowling tournament in March and add USTA-sponsored tennis this semester for students age 10 and older.

The Grandparents Club is active in almost every facet of the school, including the May fair, Santa’s Secret Shop, organizing a tea and style show and reading to students.

Another plus: “SPN CampTastic” summer camp introduced in 2011 to rave reviews. It will be offered again this year, with the counseling staff composed of former students who are now in high school or college.

Faith is an important element in the school and parish, and St. Philip Neri has

Denise Kirsch, a 1989 SPN graduate, as its school religion coordinator, and her mother-in-law, long-time kindergarten teacher Ruby Kirsch as the parish school of religion and confirmation program coordinator. Both have a master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame Seminary.

“We are a faith-filled community,” Stack said. “Everything that we do is rooted in faith and our Catholic values.”

Kirsch says what distinguishes St. Philip is the love and concern shown among people in the parish and school. It hasn’t changed since Kirsch was a student.

“It’s like coming back home,” Denise Kirsch said about working at St. Philip. “It was always my dream. … My desire to teach was born here. …  It’s been a rewarding to teach, so much so that I desired to get my master’s in theology. It’s been terrific.”

She believes in the school so much that she has enrolled three young daughters, the oldest in kindergarten.

“Being a teacher and now as a part of the administration, I know the dedication that the teachers have and the incredible hard work that Dr. Stack puts into the school,” Kirsch said. “I would not have sent my children anywhere else.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at


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