Feb. 20 marked a sad day in the history of Xavier University Preparatory School in Uptown New Orleans. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament – the order that founded the historically African-American Catholic high school in 1915 – announced that it would close the school after this academic year.
The announcement came approximately 10 days before the feast day – March 3 – of St. Katharine Drexel, the order’s founder.
“Xavier Prep is thankful to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for their leadership in directing our school for 98 years,” the school-issued press release said. “While our hearts are heavy with this news, the academic success of our students remains our No. 1 priority, and we are certain that for them, the best is yet to come.”
In a statement, Sister of the Blessed Sacrament Patricia Suchalski, president of the congregation, and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Leadership Team cited financial pressures as the reason for the closure.
“The Board of Directors, the School Administration, and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament worked tirelessly to meet the financial challenges facing the Prep, but after reviewing the financial projections for the 2013-14 school year, the Sisters concluded that the Prep does not have a financially sustainable future,” the statement said.
“The Sisters deeply regret that their decision could not be different, but due to the realities of their congregation’s limited resources and those of the Prep, no other decision was possible,” the statement added.
Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said the archdiocese was saddened to learn of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters’ decision to close the school they had founded and operated for 98 years.
Lancaster said representatives from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament met in February with various entities of the archdiocese to announce they would be closing at the end of the academic year.
While the archdiocese does not own the school, it offered financial resources to keep the school open, Lancaster said, but the sisters declined to accept the offer.
Lancaster said Jack Truxillo, the Office of Catholic Schools’ superintendent in charge of admissions, is working closely with Joe Peychaud – Xavier Prep’s president/principal – to place students currently enrolled at the school with other Catholic high schools.
Lancaster said Catholic high school principals and presidents have contacted her office expressing their willingness to ensure a Catholic education for the Xavier Prep girls.
“We will do everything we can to try and place their students in other Catholic schools,” Lancaster said. “We want to make sure that Catholic education continues. The Xavier community is in our thoughts and prayers.”
Education commitment continues
The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, founded in 1891 as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, has always placed education on the forefront of its mission. By 1942, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament operated black Catholic schools in 13 states and had 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools.
“Mother Katharine saw education as a way for young people to be all they could be and the best way they could achieve all that they could be,” said Dr. Stephanie Morris, director of archives for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament order in Bensalem, Pa. “It was a means of social justice and to educate the children. It was a way of making the children grow up to be leaders among their own people. That’s what she hoped all her students would become – leaders of their own people.”
While the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are closing Xavier Prep in New Orleans, they continue at Xavier University of Louisiana, which they founded as the first historically African-American Catholic college in the United States in 1915.
Blessed Sacrament Sisters also can be found in educational roles in schools in Montgomery, Ala.; St. Michael and Tucson, Ariz.; Savannah, Ga.; Roxbury, Mass.; Bay St. Louis, Miss.; Nashville, Tenn.; Philadelphia and in Haiti. Sisters also teach the “Workshop Way” pedagogy founded by the order to teachers throughout the United States, Morris said.
“We know that God walks with us during these difficult times, and we are thankful to all of the Prep alumni, family and friends who continue to lift us up in prayer,” the statement released from the Xavier Prep said.
Note: Alumnae, some administration and supporters of the all-girls’ Xavier Prep held a special meeting Feb. 23 to discuss ways to save the school.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.