‘Legacy’ graduates growing at Pope John Paul II

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

May 8 marked a significant moment in the history of Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell. At the school’s 39th annual graduation ceremony, nine of its 62 graduates – a record number – were children of PJP alumni.

“Now that our alumni base is growing and maturing, many have now established their careers and have high school-aged children of their own,” said Zack Pohto, class of ‘09 and advancement coordinator and alumni liaison at Pope John Paul II. “It is encouraging and exciting times here at PJP to have their legacies attend.”

Debra Riviere and her husband Ben, both graduates of Pope John Paul II – Debra in 1985 and Ben in 1989 – wanted their son Shawn to experience what they had experienced, and they sent him to their alma mater. 

“We knew from the get-go when we had kids, that that was where our children would go,” Debra Riviere said. “My husband and I make many sacrifices so our son can go there, but we had an incredible experience there.”

She said the small-school atmosphere allowed individual attention from “amazing” teachers and the opportunities to excel in athletics. Ben played every sport: baseball, football, track and basketball, and advanced to play baseball at Loyola University and Delgado Community College. Debra played volleyball. She cited her former principal Glenn Gennaro, who died in 2017, as “one of the most incredible leaders you’ll ever have.”

She also mentioned how the Catholic faith element was important to her family.

“I went to St. Raphael (New Orleans) and Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell (elementary school); and Ben went to St. Margaret Mary in Slidell. Father Pat Wattigny, PJP chaplain, is a big supporter of the school and frequent attendee at athletic events.”

Their fellow graduates and teachers are still close.

“The lifelong friendships that you establish there are important,” Debra Riviere said. “We had friends we are still friends with. We keep in touch with past administrators, too. The staff here will always be a friend to you. You need them, they will be there for you.” 

Advancement director Sherri Dutreix said Pope John Paul II highlights legacies beginning in their junior year, when juniors receive a legacy pin with their parents present. The pin can be worn on their uniform. 

Legacies honored

They are again honored at graduation with a “Legacy Award.” 

“This year, PJP extended honors to nine legacies, doubling the amount of legacies we have graduated in past years,” said athletic director Richard Dieudonne, class of 2000. “There is something to be said about that kind of increase and interest from our alumni.  We have always been a family here.  Our family is surely growing in size and heart.”

Alumni support is also visible through the Alumni Association’s scholarship program that awards six $500 scholarships and one $1,000 legacy scholarship (totaling $4,000) to deserving students in the upcoming school year.

“These scholarships are awarded in the form of tuition credits,” assistant principal Lise Bremond ’92, said. “Taking place each spring, any student enrolled at PJP may apply to our annual essay competition, but only children of alums may participate in the Legacy scholarship.”

Bremond said the competition is funded through the annual alumni campaign that was initiated by founding class members from 1981-92. 

“We are very grateful for the support and participation our alumni graciously offers,” Bremond said. “As our alumni base grows (the school is less than 40 years old), we anticipate and expect to be able to offer larger or more scholarship opportunities in the future.” 

Career day keeps connection

The efforts of Pohto,  Dieudeonne and Bremond (Class of 1992) produced a successful Career Day this past spring, where more than 30 alumni shared their professional experience with the current students. 

“From engineers to physicians, IT directors to nutritionists and more, the students were given information and insight into numerous career paths to consider, learn and discern for themselves,” Pohto said. 

PJP boasts having alumni on staff, including Pohto, Dieudonne, Bremond and Christina Mamolo (class of 2007), who is in her third year as a science and physical education instructor and coach of girls’ softball and basketball. New to the staff will be Austin Puntila, class of 2011, who will teach math; and Marissa Nunez, a 2013 grad, who will teach science. 

“We are blessed to have so many alumni on our faculty this coming school year,”  Bremond said. “I think I speak for each of us when I say that we all experienced something very special as students here and we want very much to give back that ‘certain something’ to today’s Jaguars!” 

Approximately 100 alumni, current parents and students were welcomed on campus July 26 new principal Doug Triche. He is looking forward to his new leadership role and brings a deep devotion to Catholic education and a desire to help PJP alumni reconnect to their alma mater and new outreach to alumni who have lost touch with their alma mater.

“I see great things ahead for Pope John Paul II High School because it has great students and great parents,” Triche said. “With its deep roots in the Catholic mission of the church, I believe its students are ambassadors for Christ as advocates of his Gospel of love. They are not the church of the future. They are the young church today!

“As the young church, they will do this as Christian married couples and parents, Christian scientists and engineers, Christian nurses and doctors, Christian lawyers and judges, Christian CEOs and civic leaders, and as religious brothers, sisters and priests.”

Alumni wishing to learn more about PJP’s Alumni Association or to become a member should contact Zack Pohto at the school office: (985) 649-0914. Anyone interested in donating to their alumni scholarship efforts can go online at: http://www.pjp.org/alumni/

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

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