Great Read tackles ‘It Happened in New Orleans’

By Christopher MacDowell, Clarion Herald Guest Column
Brother Martin High School

Brother Martin High School held its 11th annual Great Read celebration recently with an appearance by author Bonnye E. Stuart who wrote, “It Happened in New Orleans,” which the entire school will read.

Stuart was a guest on campus recently discussing her book and her perspective on what it means to be a New Orleanian. She shared that her inspiration for “It Happened in New Orleans,” saying it was rooted in her own French heritage.  She emphasized the importance of understanding our history so that it may be shared with future generations.

She described New Orleans as the “cultural gem of the country” because of its historic tradition as a meeting place of many diverse cultures.

The idea of New Orleans as a flashpoint of different types of people is critical to understanding the power possessed by citizens to shape their history. In her book, Stuart focused on this theme by touching upon the triumphs both of ordinary people and of the outsized personalities who contributed to New Orleans’ prosperity. Within the first few chapters of “It Happened in New Orleans,” two harrowing stories perfectly capture the grit of our people. In the first story, French brothers Iberville and Bienville, outgunned and outmanned, used their wit to deceive British Naval Captain Banks into forfeiting his attempt at capturing the Louisiana Territory. In the second, a great fire broke out in 1788, consuming St. Louis Cathedral and endangering the Ursuline Convent. Miraculously, the convent was spared of any damage due to the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on behalf of the Ursuline nuns and the people of New Orleans.

What unites these two stories is that the power of faith in God and in fellow men and women enable the enduring success of our city. Faith has served as the anchor of New Orleans for 300 years, empowering its people to conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With faith, the city is aptly prepared for its next 300 years.

About the Great Read

Each year, a Great Read committee chooses one significant book to be read by all students and faculty. Ryan Gallagher ’00, principal of Brother Martin, described the Great Read as an “opportunity for our entire school community to bond over one conversation.”

The program has traditionally featured non-fiction works with relatable events and people.

Coinciding with New Orleans’ Tricentennial, the 150 year anniversary of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans and 50 years of Brother Martin High School, this year’s book focused on New Orleans.

Stuart is a ninth-generation New Orleanian who studied journalism at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Journalism and was a post-graduate at the University of New Orleans’ communications department. She is a faculty member of the Communications/Journalism Department at Winthrop University in South Carolina.

Gallagher said the book project is “a unique opportunity to explore the heritage of our own city as we celebrate the heritage of our school and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.”

As this year’s Great Read program continues, Brother Martin students will have ongoing classroom discussions about the significance of New Orleans from multiple perspectives, including those of religion, art, science and technology and history.

By reading and discussing Stuart’s “It Happened in New Orleans,” the Brother Martin community hopes to gain a better understanding of the city’s culture and our individual and collective places in it.

Christopher MacDowell is a senior at Brother Martin High School.

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