Cradle Catholic, Xavier University pillar, dies at 97

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

Eloise Blandin Simmons was described as an example of faith and friendship at her Mass of Christian burial Jan. 31 at Corpus Christi, her childhood church.

Dr. Norman Francis, former president of Xavier University of Louisiana, thanked God for living long enough to speak about Simmons, his former assistant and friend, who died Jan. 24 at age 97.

Francis described Blandin as someone who was meticulous in her work, always on time, a ladies’ lady who had a great faith and was always helping someone, including himself. He reminisced to the time in 1948 when, as a new 17-year-old Xavier student, he went to the bursar’s office to register and found a friendly face to assist him.

“They had one person in there always smiling and helpful,” Francis said. “When you walked up, you hoped Eloise was there to greet you. … I don’t think she had a cross word for anybody. Everybody loved her. She loved people and treated people with great respect.”

Francis said if young people were looking for a model or hero, that was Simmons.

“Every institution is built on pillars,” Francis said. “She was one of the pillars of Xavier. … Faith and hope and charity are the backbone of good people, for themselves and other people. And Eloise had that. She would give you her last dollar if you needed it.”

Others also spoke of her faith, including Cynthia Cheri-Woolridge, who got to know Simmons after Katrina through Xavier professor emeritus Dr. Malcolm Breda. She coordinated the music at Simmons’ Mass, selecting her favorite songs, including “Amazing Grace,” “God Has Smiled on Me,” “O Lord I Am Not Worthy,” “Ave Maria,” “Immaculate Mary” and “This Little Light of Mine.

“She was a woman of faith and was close to God … and consecrated to Mary,” Cheri-Woolridge said. “Say your rosary and remember her.”

Devoted to family, faith

The second of eight children, Simmons was exposed to religious not only at school – with the Blessed Sacrament Sisters at Corpus Christi Elementary, the former Xavier Preparatory School and then Xavier University – but also through her mother, Alice, who was a sodality member, said her brother, Albert Blandin.

“My mother – everyone said – was a saint, so we always had priests and nuns at the house,” Blandin said.

Simmons’ devotion to Mary also was practiced in the sodality and annual May crownings in her home. She was a lay associate of the Blessed Sacrament and followed their charism of gift of self and service to the community’s needy, and she was on the Sisters of the Holy Family’s Lafon Nursing Home board.

Simmons was hired at Xavier University out of high school by the Blessed Sacrament sisters. She spent her entire career of 50-plus years – in the development office, bursar’s office, communications department, College of Arts and Science and the president’s office. In addition, she was noted for being active in the credit union. Her involvement earned her the moniker “the spirit of Xavier.”

“Xavier was her life,” Blandin said. “She talked about it all the time. … Every Thanksgiving we had to wait for her at dinner because she attended the Xavier football game.”

“This is a lady for all time, for all people,” said Dr. John Ware, who said Simmons mothered him while he was a student at Xavier, even buying furniture for his apartment, and as a music department professor. “She was absolutely beautiful in the way she related to people.”

After retirement, she filled in and “would hold down the fort when others took vacation,” said co-worker Karen Watkins. “She had a breadth of knowledge of the university and was able to fill in with little or no effort.”

Sisters sheltered her

Simmons and her husband Arthur were rescued from their Gentilly home during Hurricane Katrina by Breda, whom they considered the child they never had, and brought to Xavier University, where approximately 300 students, faculty members, their family members and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament found refuge, said Blessed Sacrament Sister Mary Ann Stachow, a university professor.

After losing her husband to a heart attack while there, Simmons accompanied the Blessed Sacrament Sisters to shelter first in Baton Rouge, and then to the sisters’ motherhouse in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. There she stayed for several months until she could travel to her brother’s California home.

“The sisters tried to wrap her in so much TLC after her husband died,” Sister Mary Ann said. Simmons had her faith to comfort her, as well as daily Mass and exposition of the Eucharist. “She had a rock-solid faith. You could kind of see where so much of her spirituality was based on Mary – that gentle blessedness, caring concern for anyone she dealt with. You could see that with students at Xavier. She would give that tender loving care and kindness that a student who is stressed out really needs.”

She returned to New Orleans almost five years later once her home was renovated. When it was discovered that Chinese drywall was used in the renovation, “she had to move out,” her brother said, to the Catholic-run Malta Park (currently Home Life in the Garden).

In his homily, Josephite Father David Begany, Corpus Christi parochial vicar, said, “Eloise Blandin Simmons led a full life and really led the ideal life.” She enjoyed the benefits of Catholic education at Corpus Christi and imbued the tenets of the Catholic faith taught by the sisters and took them to heart at all the parishes where she worshipped and Xavier University where she worked.

“She had a deep faith life. She took the faith she learned as a child, she accepted it, embodied it and lived it as an adult. That’s why I say she led the ideal life.”

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

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