Artistic reuse for old St. Joseph’s

Photos by Beth Donze | CLARION HERALD

The Bell Artspace Campus – 79 affordable apartments for artists located at the original Treme site of the former St. Joseph Academy – celebrated its grand opening April 19. Special guests included a dozen Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph, including Sister Joan LaPlace, above, whose congregation operated the all-girl academy from 1906-61. “It chokes me up to see it – to know where the (campus) came from, the state it was in (after Hurricane Katrina) and where it has ended up,” said Sister Joan, a member of the Class of 1959. “We never expected, as sisters, to see it come back to life!”

Sister Joan was especially gratified that many architectural features of her beloved alma mater had been retained in the restoration, including crosses and various renderings of the fleur-de-lis, the latter reminders of the Sisters’ French roots. “The floors (in the main building) are the same floors that we walked on, and it’s great to see how they are respecting the chapel, even though it will no longer be used as a chapel,” Sister Joan said, referring to the 1887-built structure, which is still undergoing restoration. The former chapel’s Gothic bones, stained-glass windows, choir loft and sanctuary “still say ‘this is a sacred space,’ which for us means everything,” Sister Joan said.

The retrofitted campus, which fronts the 2100 block of Ursulines Avenue, is named for Andrew Bell Junior High, the public school that occupied the site from 1961 until its Katrina-forced closure in 2005. 

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