“Catholic education is at the heart and mission of the church,” Deacon Drea Capaci read Sept. 22 as a petition at the ground-breaking ceremony of the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Kenner, part of Divine Mercy Catholic Parish.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond joined Father David Dufour, pastor; Joan Kathmann, principal; the faculty; parents; parishioners and everyone gathered on a picture-perfect day to bless the land and the construction of a 60,000-square-foot school that will begin a new legacy in the history of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School and Divine Mercy Parish.
“We pray that the buildings that will be built here will be a place where our children learn and grow in faith, knowledge and service,” Archbishop Aymond said. “A place where teachers, administrators and others will come to find a place of learning and a home. Fill us all. Future generations will pass through these walls with the grace to proclaim your unceasing love through all that we do and all that we learn.”
Fulfilling a wish list
In her 10th year as principal and a former teacher at St. Elizabeth, Kathmann said she had decades to envision what was desired in a new school.
“We needed larger office space, a larger cafeteria, a conference area, a larger library, computer and science labs and an early-childhood center that will be better designed for learning,” she said. “And it will be wonderful for this generation of students to grow up where their parish church is” (not blocks away, as it currently is since the church moved to a new parish site in 2013, created by the 2009 merger of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Nativity of Our Lord parishes in Kenner).
“We are ready to go,” she said.
The new school has been designed by Fauntleroy, Latham, Weldon and Barre Architects and will be built by Voelkel McWilliams Construction. Anticipated opening is sometime in the 2018-19 school year. It will be of contemporary style with brick and stucco to match the church and surrounding neighborhood, architect Kieran Weldon said.
The school will encompass two buildings with wide corridors. A one-story building will house the administration area that includes offices for the school counselor, curriculum coordinator and finances; two conference rooms; a faculty lounge; and rooms for library/media, art, music and physical education.
Early childhood space
The Early Childhood Center of pre-K1 to pre-K4 is planned with its own dining area, art room, before- and after-care and changing rooms. The two-story building will have kindergarten through third grade on the first floor plus an individual-needs classroom and computer lab.
Fourth through seventh grades will use the second floor, which will have a foreign-language classroom and middle-school science lab. Classrooms will be a minimum of 700 square feet up to 900 square feet, Weldon said.
Renewed capital campaign
The school is Phase II of a parish master plan, said Father Dufour, pastor for nine years. A merger committee comprising parishioners from Nativity and St. Elizabeth recommended a uniting of the two parishes on the current, 18-acre site at Joe Yenni Boulevard at Sal Lentini Parkway as Divine Mercy Parish.
The new church moved first – in November 2013 – on the property bought during Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Carmon’s pastorate.
“They had … the foresight to see that having our educational facilities by our parish church would be so important in the integral Catholic formation of our school students, our parish catechesis of students and youth ministry,” Father Dufour said, giving children easy access the parish’s 24-hour adoration chapel and other opportunities to connect to the parish. “We knew it had to happen. The how and when still had to be worked out. Thanks to God and the overwhelming support of the archdiocese, particularly Archbishop Aymond, through the hard work of Mrs. Kathmann, the parish and school staff and the great generosity of so many, this vision will soon be a reality.”
Father Dufour announced a leadership phase of the “Fulfilling Our Promises” capital campaign called “Catholic Education for the Future,” and recent donations by Ed and Peggy Muniz and others to kick off the campaign at $1.3 million.
“And we are just getting started,” Father Dufour said.
Just as Jesus held a special place in his heart for children, Archbishop Aymond told the students that they were “the spirit of the school and we … ask for your continued prayers as this project will begin and continue construction.”
He defined what he believes is the heart of Catholic education.
“Catholic education is a school of knowledge where boys and girls, young men and women, come to be filled with the knowledge they will need now and in the future,” the archbishop said. “Catholic education is also a school of love, where boys and girls come to learn how to love themselves and respect themselves and to love others and to know what it means to make a sacrifice to love others. Thirdly, Catholic education is a school of discipleship. As you come here, you will continue to know the Lord Jesus and be formed in his love; to be able to hear him say to you every day, ‘Let the children come to me.’ And, so we are indeed grateful for this day, this historic day in the life of this archdiocese and the life of this parish and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. It is indeed a time for great blessings.”
At the ceremony’s end, bouquets of balloons in the school colors of blue, green and white were released. A long-time parishioner noted that it was floating west toward the original parish campus, where the school began 33 years ago and will remain until construction is finished.
The Men’s Club also served jambalaya.
“I’m going to cry,” said Susan Woodward, the first fifth-grade teacher at St. Elizabeth in 1985, at the groundbreaking. “This day has been on our agenda for 30-something years, and it is finally here. All the kids that passed through here are on that stage with us. It’s just beautiful.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.