Longtime cafeteria manager at OLPH honored

Barbara Songy held command of the cafeteria at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kenner for 50 years – from 1955-2005 – and on May 9, the parish honored her by renaming the cafeteria, the “Barbara W. Songy Memorial Cafeteria.”
“It was a great loss when she passed away on Dec. 22, (2011),” said Dominican Sister Michaeline Green, pastoral assistant at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and event organizer who delivered a brief history of Songy’s life, including how she met her American husband, “Dutch,” in England while teaching ice skating and ended up in Kenner. “She will always be remembered and loved.”

A school choir sang a variety of songs at the dedication, including “God Save the Queen,” a nod to her British heritage, and “Requiem.” Many who knew her spoke on her behalf.

Father Randy Roux, now chaplain at Children’s Hospital, was a close friend until her death in 2011. He mentioned how her cafeteria office was a powerhouse from which, he joked, she ran the rectory, ran all the priests out, ran the parish, the convent and the school.

“She is a legend among food service managers,” Father Roux said. “Her contribution to food services in the archdiocese is remarkable. It is only fitting that Father Miles dedicated this cafeteria in her honor. This cafeteria is about feeding the hearts, minds, spirit and stomachs of our children. She noticed (students) and lifted them up and admonished them when they needed it. She was a true mother for the children of this school. A woman of true sacrifice, doing only for the Lord and the Blessed Mother.”

Seasoned veteran
Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni worked with Songy on the annual St. Rosalie procession in south Kenner, organized from OLPH Parish. He vividly remembered an early meeting when he walked in before others, and Songy, who had years of procession experience over him, quickly let him know who was in charge.

“This is how we’re going to do it,” he said she told him, even though he said he had to check with city ordinances.

“It was amazing to me how involved a great lady – and non-Italian – was in that procession,” he said.

Known for annual high tea
Songy did more than run the school cafeteria. She was actively involved locally and statewide in food services. She also was an active parishioner who helped run the annual St. Joseph Altar and dinner and a long-time member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas.

Mayor Yenni and Janet Sanderson, archdiocesan School Food and Nutrition Services chief operating officer, both mentioned the renowned high tea she held annually at Christmastime for Catholic school principals, using her own china. Father Miles said she never failed to give all attendees a small gift at the event as well.

“The only sad thing is that Miss Songy is not here today to know that this cafeteria is named after her,” Yenni said. “What a great lady, a great institution she was for this school.”

“She is and will always be a legend,” Sanderson said.

“Consistency is the word that comes to mind when I think of Miss Songy,” said Joe Calderara, a member of the first class of students who ate in the new cafeteria that Songy help build by holding penny parties and corralling other funds in the early 1960s. He fondly recalled her delicious baked chicken and shepherd’s pie but joked about carrots and raisins.

“She had nutrition and the basic food groups down before anybody,” he said.

“She was a great lady and friend of the mothers in the Catholic Daughters of the Americas,” he said. “She wasn’t afraid to call on you, and any time you got on the phone with her, you were anxious to help out.”

Songy’s son Bob recalled his mother’s demand for perfection from everyone, knowing well that no one was perfect. She just wanted the best everyone had inside, he said. He teared up as he thanked the assembled.

“This cafeteria was not part of her life,” he said. “It was her life.”

He joked that OLPH stood for “Old Ladies Perpetually Helping,” referring to how much time his mother spent at the cafeteria and doing parish work. “There were only three things in her life – her school, her family and her church. She was such a religious person. I don’t know if any of us could measure up to her standards,” he said.

The plaque will keep her memory alive at the parish.

“I dare say, she will wander these halls for generations to come and everyone will hear that name Miss Songy – the greatest cafeteria manager this archdiocese has ever known,” Father Roux said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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