Holy Cross will open a primary school for boys beginning in the 2015-16 school year on the grounds of Transfiguration of the Lord Parish in Gentilly, about a mile from its main campus on Paris Avenue.
The new school, to be known as Holy Cross Primary, will be located at Transfiguration of the Lord’s recently completed classroom facility at 5601 Elysian Fields Ave., next to the church. It will offer instruction to boys in grades pre-kindergarten through 4.
Announcing the plans March 17, Charles DiGange, Holy Cross’ headmaster, said school administrators began searching for off-campus sites that could accommodate an expanded educational program after the archdiocese announced its initiative to restrict Catholic high schools to grades 8 through 12, and have elementary schools encompass grades pre-kindergarten through 7.
Holy Cross currently is structured as a middle school offering grades 5 through 7, and a high school of grades 8 through 12.
“We saw that (Transfiguration of the Lord Parish) had a building that was unoccupied and in close proximity to our campus,” said DiGange, noting that Holy Cross signed a right of first refusal to become the building’s future tenant after discussing the option with Father Paul Desrosiers, Transfiguration’s pastor.
“We couldn’t put a pre-K through 4 school on (the Paris Avenue) campus – it had to be an off-site facility,” DiGange said. “The building at Transfiguration gave us the opportunity to have that off-site facility that was close to our main campus.”
A perfect fit, next to church
Completed last summer, the modern, two-story brick and glass structure boasts 11 classrooms, a full-size cafeteria and a kitchen. DiGange said the building’s layout squares well with the new primary school’s plan to offer one section of each grade level.
“It had ample space to accommodate that business model and also had the green space that was needed by the young guys,” DiGange said, citing another major asset of the site: neighboring Transfiguration of the Lord Church will facilitate school liturgies and retreats.
“Everything just came together; it was a perfect marriage,” DiGange added. “It’s a win-win situation, not only for Holy Cross School, but for the parish of Transfiguration.”
The Holy Cross expansion also will mean that the geographical site at Transfiguration will once again house a Catholic school, having served as the location of St. Raphael the Archangel Elementary beginning in 1948 and later as Marian Central Middle School. Although the church, originally dedicated to St. Raphael, was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, the site’s original school buildings and gym were shuttered and razed after the storm.
The modern building at Transfiguration, rebuilt as a community center with FEMA funds, will be used by both Holy Cross and by Transfiguration’s parish ministries, including its CCD program.
The site will gain yet another amenity when ground is broken this spring on a gym that will front the Mendez Street side of the parish plant. Gym space will be shared between Transfiguration’s youth ministry and the new primary school, DiGange said.
Parish pleased with plan
Father Desrosiers said he received a “positive” reaction from his parishioners when he informed them of the building’s future occupants at a recent Mass.
“They were fine that the building was going to be used for education. It’s not our program; we’re just leasing the building to Holy Cross,” Father Desrosiers said. “I think it’s good that rather than leasing (the building) to an outside operation, we are leasing it to a place that we have relationship with. I’m most excited that it will be a Catholic school.”
DiGange pointed to another historical note: the new primary school will mark a return to “the roots” of Holy Cross School. The headmaster recalled how Holy Cross priests and brothers came to New Orleans in the mid-19th century from the University of Notre Dame at the request of Archbishop Antoine Blanc.
“On May 1, 1849, (Holy Cross) assumed control of St. Mary’s Orphanage on Chartres Street and the care of 83 young men, from newborn to high school,” DiGange said. “We’re simply going back to what we did 165 years ago. We’ve been taking care of little guys for 165 years.”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.